Floods, Irvine Hall, and the Electric Clays
By Alan Safier
I had more pressing things to do than be part of Claypool's 1960s Psychedelic
Revue. The next day was to bring my last final exam in my least favorite subject:
geography. If I didn't pass that test, I wouldn't complete my non-major requirements,
and the following fall I would have to take some sleep-depriving eight a.m. class
in Western Civ or something. That was not going to happen, no matter how high
the Hocking insisted on overflowing its banks. So off I went, seeking a place
to study that had both electricity and peace. I found a cozy window alcove in
the university library and settled in for the long siege.
At two a.m.,
even though I still didn't know the difference between a fjord and a Buick, I
figured enough was enough. And besides, I didn't need to finish in the 99th percentile
or anything; all I had to do was pass the damn course and then, hopefully, never
cast my eyes upon a relief map of Addis Ababa again.
By the time I arrived
back at Irvine Hall, the power for the West Green was back on. I got to my room
and quietly turned the key in the lock. Clays was curled up in the lower bunk,
happily snoring through another of his high-watt, low-amp dreams. I set my alarm
for 8:00 and was asleep by 2:30.
That gorgeous early-June morning in 1968 was one that I'll remember forever, one
of those days when the air is a little heavier, the green in the leaves a little
deeper, and you suddenly look up to find that spring has segued into summer without
your even realizing it.
But this day was to be memorable for many reasons.
Most of the time, I wasn't much for eating first thing in the morning. I was usually
too nauseous. Besides, the cafeteria didn't still serve breakfast at quarter to
eleven. But today, with a big exam only an hour away and me up early, I knew that
a hearty morning meal would improve my chances of being able to kiss off the earth
sciences forever. So downstairs I went, to Irvine Hall cafeteria and my platter
of limp bacon and suspect eggs.
But when I got to the main floor, a handwritten
sign on the door informed me that, due to the Hocking River splashing away some
three inches below the cafeteria floor, the board of health had determined that
we were to be dining in neighboring Grosvenor Hall for the rest of finals week.
I had never even stepped foot in this dorm, but off I went for my breakfast at
Grosvenor, a strange meal in a strange land.
As I sat there gagging on
toast and marmalade and straining to grasp every golden fact that I had known
cold just the night before, my roommate appeared at my table.
whatcha got there today, Safe?" The Electric Clays asked.
this God-forsaken geography. Then I am out of here," I said.
"Good for you. I only got one left, too. English."
mine was English. Christ -- I wish mine was in English."
There was a pause as I tried to cram a few more geographic morsels into my overstuffed
brain. Clays slurped down a huge glass of milk, then sighed loudly. "Tough
night last night, wasn't it?"
"Yeah, I felt like I was in that
library studying forever. I hate studying in the library."
"No," Clays said. "That's not what I meant."
What did you mean?"
"Well, Kennedy, of course. What's the latest?
You hear anything?"
"No," I said, "Not really. I was
booking all night. The last I heard, it sounded like he was winning."
"Yeah," I said. Clays looked at me like
I had just re-wired his favorite transformer. "The California primary? I
was in the library until about 2 a.m., but the last thing I heard, Kennedy had
won. Why?" Clays just stared at me. "What? What's with the look?"
I'd like to think that Bobby Kennedy would have gotten the nomination that summer,
balloons in the air and hopes high. I'd like to think that he'd have beaten whomever
the Republicans decided to run against him in November. I'd like to think that
a lot of those soldier boys could have stayed home to coach their sons' Little
League teams, or to see their daughters' smiles when those braces finally came
But as I returned to Cleveland and another summer of pushing 45s
at The Record Rendezvous, and The Electric Clays flew back to Long Island, he
and I and the rest of the Class of '71 grew up a little.
Ford would still be just a congressman from Michigan to me, co-host of the Ev
and Gerry Show, and Deep Throat simply what some of the guys sneaked out of
the video store one crazy Saturday night. Maybe The Watergate would still be just
another big hotel in Washington, and Kent State simply where my brother got his
bachelor's degree. And maybe Dick Nixon would still be just the guy whose upper
lip perspired so badly in those debates we watched in Cub Scouts back in 1960.
But as I sat in a cubicle in a library in southeastern Ohio, cramming my brain
with facts that would escape back into the ether before the next moonrise, part
of my future was being decided for me some 3,000 miles away. And I didn't even
know about it. The fact is, none of us will ever know about it. Not all of it,
anyway. All we'll ever know for sure was that a moment, an opportunity, a part
of our youth died that night in 1968 on the floor of a kitchen of a hotel in Los
Angeles, California, and there's no way we can ever get it back.
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