Coming Home

 

 

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When they came back William Paterson College on Oct. 1, 1996, many

hadn't seen the campus since their graduation nearly 15 years before,

each had served on the staff of the school newspaper, each had returned

as a private pilgrimage to the past. Glenn Kenny did not return with

them, nor Nicole Bush nor many of the other legendary people who had

made up the editorial staff back then.

 

Many had scattered, many just couldn't come even the short 17 miles

between Manhattan and the mountain top site they had shared in their

youth. Later, Joel Lewis would retrace their steps, in search of clues

of Sue, diggishared in their youth. Later, Joel Lewis would retrace

their steps, in search of clues of Sue, digging up old stones, looking

under each for some sign of former controversy. But Joel did not join

them this time. His place was not with them, but of a previous, less

complicated graduating class with the likes of Mike Reardon, t

 

His evaluation of the campus would vary from theirs. He would find

beauty where they found a terrible awe, and perhaps they felt a deep

shame over what had happened to their campus while they were gone.

Bulldozers had dug up the lawn. Brick and mortar now walled off a side

of what had once served as a long, unfettered mall from parking lot to

the face of the student center, the latest testimony to the age of

corporate greed that had over taken the place just as they were

graduating.

 

By the following June the college administration would transform this

sleepy place into a University, changing the unofficial title of the

school from "We Party Constantly" to something more insidious ending

with "PU." When these students left they had only heard rumors of the

new dormitories scheduled for construction on the hill behind Matelson

Hall. While the web page advertisement for the college boasted of 250

wooded acres, few of the original trees remained, except those along the

extreme rim of the bowl-like depression into which the college was sunk.

 

Joel would admire the new construction when he journeyed here four

months later, as he sniffed around looking for secrets this campus held

in his attempt to write a story of New Jersey Monthly. Although he had

mumbled about the possible profits in writing this story within days of

her vanishing, Joel was prompted to action by the national broadcast of

NBC's Unsolved Mysteries with Sue as its star. Joel believed Sue

vanishing was his ticket to fame and fortune as a freelance writer.

 

He would admire the new library, a huge block-shaped building to the

left of the parking lot, expanded out from its original size to resemble

a financial district icon. He would admire the atrium nestled into the

outstretched, newly constructed brick arms of Hunzinger Wing. He would

fancy the return of White Hall back to dormitories, from which they had

been converted years ago.

 

But not these souls.

 

To them these new elements had ruined a memory of the quiet campus on

which they had first discovered themselves, the new place an alien

representation, twisting their memories into something obscene. The new

campus just did not fit with the map they had in their heads, making

them stumble as they climbed up to the crest of the hill and looked down

into the grassy common where on other days boys used to play Frisbee

non-stop. The additions to buildings had stolen pieces of the grass as

well as the parking lot, huge brick masses added to provide more class

rooms for the rapidly rising enrollments as the school president and his

board rang up their tuition in pure profit.

 

But even though these souls had studied here, their stay had been too

short for them to fully understand the chameleon-like nature of their

alma mater, a community oriented facility first founded in 1855 as "The

Paterson City Normal School" to provide teachenature of their alma

mater, a community oriented facility first founded in 1855 as "The

Paterson City Normal School" to provide teachers to public schools just

then emerging across the state and nation -- the dream of Matthew Arnold

perverted by the increased demands of the industrial revolution. New,

more complicated machines, required a better educated work force. By

1875, normal school had added a one-year teacher training curriculum for

high school graduates seeking to become teachers. This was later

increased to two years. By 1910, the school -- after having changed

locations numerous times -- settled into the newly constructed #2

 

Although college historians tend to gloss over the change from local

control of the school to state control, political patronage pressured

local teachers to seek a state takeover. In 1923, the state legislature

did just that, making the school basically the first state teacher's

college. But pressure of a different kind began the school's slow

evolution into a main stream college. The Great Depression had slowed

the country's march towards thorough and efficient education. Fewer

students could afford college and school officials began to admit

non-teacher oriented students in order to enhance the bottom line. The

school began to offer a four year degree program. A year later, the

school's name changed to New Jersey State Teacher's College at Paterson,

and a degree program established.

 

The early campus fathers began to expand wholesale, setting up a nursing

program, a business department, and a primary grades education program

and reading clinic all before the end of World War Two. Perhaps they had

foresight to anticipate the affects of the GI bill. In 1948, the state

paid $200,000 for an estate in Wayne from the family of Garret Hobart,

the one-time vice president under William McKinley. Since the turn of

the century manor house could not accommodate the expected increases in

enrollment, school fathers then began to cut down many of the trees on

the 250 acre property, opening the campus officially in 1951.

 

From 1954 to 1966, the school expanded at such a rate that old Hobart

must have turned over in his grave, explaining why he might have wanted

to haunt the manor house -- as later reported by many of the students.

The school fathers not only constructed new buildings for class rooms,

but added dormitories and administrative offices. During this time, the

school started its first graduate program in education, and also

suffered one more change of name, now official becoming Paterson State

College -- part of a state move to remove the word "teacher" from its

six colleges, despite the fact that each would still seek to produce

teachers the way factories during the world war produced bullets and

bombs. But despite all this, by 1966, the college still only had 212

students.

 

This changed a year later as the school fathers pushed to have make the

college over into "a multipurpose liberal arts institution," and by

1971, made the state change the name again to "William Paterson

College." Numerous other changes occurred over the years. By the time

Sue arrived here in 1978 more than 6,000 students attended. And by the

time these alumni returned, the greedy school fathers had edged this

figure up to 9,000, and had expanded the campus to 300 acres with

purchases of neighboring properties, something befitting its new tiles

as William Paterson University.

 

In their day, kids jockeyed up the hill in a variety of conveyances, by

bus from Paterson, by Car from Wayne, by train to Paterson from places

like Hoboken, or New York. Now, only God knew, who came or went here,

every face they saw startlingly young.

 

Were they that young when they came?

 

Seeing these kids, watching them parade along the concrete paths to and

from the various buildings, made the old timer newcomers feel incredibly

old. They had picked Friday because by tradition it was the night the

staff began to assemble the newspaper, preparing for Tuesday morning

print run. Parking spaces were always available, and the staff formed a

micro society within the student body, a group who worked weekly towards

a common goal, producing something week in and week out that tied the

rest of the restless campus together into a single entity. Everyone read

the newspaper, at least in part. Short of the president's office, the

newspaper office had most power on the campus, an independent voice that

even the SGA could not stifle.

 

They walked slowly up through the arch like gap between the library and

extended Hunzinger Wing, all too aware of the lack of imagination that

past two college presidents had brought to the school, constructing new

buildings as classes in humanities shrank, presidents whose lack of

taste generations would have to tolerate, practical men who sought to

increase cash flow, not improve aesthetics. For over 20 years these two

men reigned, tearing up trees putting up buildings, turning a once

sprawling wonderful tree-topped mountain into a city on a hill, brick

and metal replacing ordinary common sense. After the student center,

they built the dormitories, after the dormitories, they built a

recreation center -- a place designed to bring big name entertainment to

the school, bands as popular in this day as the Grateful Dead was during

the 1970s, bands that would not come for lack of interest -- Lot Six on

the farthest end of campus now condemned to live with the metal sided

box, and the memory of people using the football and soccer fields as a

short cut to class.

 

Whatever cheer the alumni brought with them after a decade away,

dissipated quickly. The first season's frost chilling them more deeply

than they imagined. When they had served as staff to the newspaper in

the early 1980s, WPC teemed with life, with people still acting like

people rather than calculating machines, some still tainted by the touch

of the 1960s, the counter culture not totally exorcised by the

administration 1978 expulsion of low-grade students. A few radicals

still clung of part time jobs or positions on the Student Mobilization

Committee. But more had changed on campus than just added construction.

People stumbled along, as if trained in one of Sue's legendary fugues,

nodding their heads at familiar faces but without enthusiasm. None

seemed remotely impressed by their surroundings for all the

administration's attempt at creating pomp. Although a few drunks roared

outrageously as they paraded towards the pub -- clumps of boys mostly

with backwards baseball hats and collegiate sweat shirts from more

prestigious schools, most of the coeds the alumni saw seemed isolated

and lost, staring at the march of their own feet without noticing the

campus as all. None acknowledge the strangers among them, none offered

even a reluctant hello.

 

The student center, once the hub of student social life, squeaked with

the echoes of their sneakers, part of that twilight zone between the

last of the day classes and the official party time at the pub. The door

clerk asked for identification, not because their faces failed to show

their age, but because of the in-club mentality that had come over the

campus. No one wanted strangers here. And the clerk blinked down at the

alumni cards, confused as to whether or not to let them in, perhaps a

little annoyed at an invasion from the past. This was his campus now,

not theirs. Why didn't they just get on with their lives and leave WPC

to the next generation? Eventually, when they threatened to call in

higher authority, the clerk relented and they entered what had once been

a holy place, a sacred sanctuary to which they'between the last of the

day classes and the official party time at the pub. The door clerk asked

for iden

 

This was Sue's preaching platform, the place in which she had

manufactured many of her myths, her sermons still echoing in the dim

interior, though this place had changed, too, reverting back to the

disco fever of the 1970s, multi-colored lights above the dance floor,

mirrors along the walls. The woody look that had made the place seem so

friendly once had given away to the electric look of a new, switched-on

generation. Cafe tables had replaced the booths. People didn't come here

to discuss poetry or politics the way the alumni had, but to

party-hearty and go home drunk. In their day, the newspaper staff had

spent hours here arguing over the editorial content of the paper,

sometimes staying here until closing before mounting the elevator for

the three floor journey to the office. But if the new staff did the

same, none of them saw it. If any heated discussions occurred, they did

not occur here. No one read their latest poetic epic. No one spread the

faith after the fashion of Sue.

 

The alumni sat and ordered drinks despite the obvious devastation, and

the new nature of the pub became clearer as the hour neared traditional

pub hours, and the night life emerged as students stumbled in. Huge

speakers blasted music, shaking the walls and rattling the glasses, and

the kids, came together in a kind of slow, grinding dance that largely

resembled sex, pressing their hips together as they moved in one spot.

The whole night life had come down to this, like slugs sliming against

each other, sticking to each other, going home with each other when the

lights went out-- as vulgar and emotionless as the lap dancing routines

Sue had conducted during her time as a go-go dancer in New York City sex

clubs.

 

Joel wouldn't visit the pub during his visit later. He wouldn't be as

disturbed at the alumni was when they decided to leave, hurrying past

the know-it-all boy at the door to investigate other changes here. Some

suggested they take a trip up to the newspaper office, which would now

be in the middle of production. If any place on campus still had life,

that place would, and from it the alumni could glean more information

about the general state of things. And after all, that was the place

each had spent the most time during their four years here. They did not

take the elevator, but climbed the stairs, their footsteps leaving the

empty stairwell in echoes of former memories, of the time Sue freaked

out, and held this stairway hostage, of the time someone ran down them

naked, of the time, Mike Alexander held a protest poetry reading here,

on and on and on.

 

Some mention was made of Sue's summer disappearance from Nutley. Most of

them knew at least some of the details from TV and radio. Some had

actually read the sensationalized accounts in the local daily

newspapers. None were surprised. They recalled too much about Sue's

activities here, as if this latest story fit so well in with Sue's

school myth, that they felt at least marginally happy about some things

remaiTV and radio. Some had actually read the sensationalized accounts

in the local daily newspapers. None were surprised. They recalled too

much about S

 

Joel, who spent so little of his campus time here, found the changes to

the offices refreshing. Gone was the madness of desk pressed again desk,

chair against chair, paper sprawling from every drawer and desk top and

trash cans. As with the rest of the campus,pressed again desk, chair

against chair, paper sprawling from every drawer and desk top and trash

cans. As with the rest of the campus, the administration had invested

here, installed grey-sided cubicles that allowed each student his or her

space. No one would repeat Sue's territorial battles with Nicole, nor

accuse anyone of moving her desk, or shifting her possessions. If

anything was out of place now, none of the alumni saw it. If anyone was

hurrying to finish copy before the deadline, none of it showed. In fact,

the alumni saw no sign of production, no mess of mis-typed copy clutch

 

If anything the floor had just been swept and the desk tops dusted, and

each member of that small returning alumni thought he or she had

stumbled through the wrong door, and had it not been for the sign

outside, they might have sought another door where they might find the

newspaper. Only two people sat at their desks, one claiming title of

reporter, the other as editor. Joel would find the editor extremely

helpful, a student who had taken the time to read every issue from the

last twenty years in order to get an understanding of the newspaper's

history, who would help Joel locate copy Sue had written during her

three year tenure on the staff, news articles she had hoped would propel

her into the top editor's slot, not color pieces, no extended diatribes

on the arts. But neither reporter nor editor seemed unduly anxious nor

showed sign that they had a deadline to meet. Indeed, they had very

little copy to write or to edit, since very little now appeared in the

newspaper, which to fill space was printed with larger type, just

sports, personal columns, and a few news releases from various

departments. All of it as unimaginative as the campus itself, all of it

pre-approved by an administration that had deliberately set out to

destroy every inkling of free speech on the campus, finally, now after

so many years, taking over the financial aspects of the newspaper while

censoring its editorial. The editor and reporter were waiting at that

moment for the administration to finish reading the copy, to approve its

content, and then send it back. The alumni were shocked. Most of this

crew had graduated by the time the administration made its move to take

over the campus publications. They hadn't been around for the senate

vote or the one-term right-wing editor who had come to the agreement,

giving up the newspaper s traditional independence as part of the Reagan

revolution. This was all done quietly, so that only a few of us knew

about it s going on. I actually tried pull of a protest by sitting in on

the SGA office. But someone tipped them all, and both the SGA office and

the office of the school president were closed when I came.

 

Yet, even though the changes came in 1984, the administration did

nothing to enforce their power, waiting out the last of the last

generation of radicals, knowing that we couldn't remain on campus

forever. But the real death of the newspaper came in 1990, when

professor Herb Jackson dropped dead of a heart attack. As advisor to the

newspaper and an ardent newspaper man himself, he had insisted on the

newspaper s integrity, even to the point of defying the president. The

administration feared his wrath, and appeared delighted when Jackson s

death gave them a free hand to change the paper into something more

acceptable -- change it, in other words, into the empty rag it became.,

one more page in the administration's recruitment package.

 

"Trouble? Here at William Paterson? Just look at our newspaper. We are a

friendly campus," they'd say.

 

Sue would have puked. As managing editor and later news editor, she had

done much to shape the direction of the paper in the 1980s, insisting

that the paper dig for issues, not bullshit. In her day, she, Glenn,

Franz and others posed a powerful counter to anthe 1980s, insisting that

the paper dig for issues, not bullshit. In her day, she, Glenn, Franz

and others posed a powerful counter to an overly aggressive

administration, always keeping the administration honest with the threat

of an angry headline. In those days, the newspaper crackled with

electricity, and was constantly under attack for it, people threatening

to sue, people actually suing. If the paper didn't get sued once a year,

the editorial staff wasn't doing its job. In one year, the paper was

sued four times. But in no case, had the paper ever failed to produce

lively and readable copy. The two editors in waiting said the paper was

now attempting to reach off campus for readership and advertisement, not

with the aim of enlightening anybody -- a phone bo

 

The alumni shook their heads, and left the office, and the campus,

seeking a bar where they could soak all this in over a few hard drinks

-- without the grinding of campus kids, or the blaring of bad music.

Then, down in Haledon, they settled at a table where they, too, had gone

as students. The name of the bar had changed, but not the interior, and

they sat and talked and tried to erase the bad taste of the modern

campus with the sweet savor of memories. They laughed about the antics

of friends. They talked about where this person had gone and that

person, and who had married whom. But when they got to Sue, they neither

laughed nor cried, but nodded solemnly at tales of Sue s disappearing.

 

Some things, at least, never changed.

 

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Not like it was

 

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