Sunday, April 11, 2010

Last Call

The Moonlight Lounge was in the back of Ross Hall, near the rear exit. By day it served as a dorm room, but at night it became Butler's alternative scene, especially on the weekends.

The room was large, a bit sunken, big comfy couch in the middle, primo stereo system along the left wall. Many parties were thrown there, but they rarely degenerated into simple college noise. We did a lot of talking, debating, arguing, performing. Unlike the frats and sororities, there was no class line to cross. If you could intellectually hang, you were welcome. If not, you were in for a rough ride, unless you brought booze or weed. Chemical contributions helped ease your entry.

Thinking back, there were moments of class baiting, primarily when preppies and frat boys dropped in. I recall one night a friend who was on a Republican kick (he supported George H.W. Bush over Ronald Reagan) dragging in a couple straight from the Omegas in Animal House. They wore matching plaid outfits, were well-scrubbed, looked around with pinched expressions. A Moonlight regular Zone and I had just hit a bong, so the air was fragrant. Then Zone, a cute punkish girl from Jersey, put on Oh Shit! by the Buzzcocks.

She cranked up the volume, nodding her head to the beat. When the song finished, she played it again. And again. The preppies got the hint, and left soon after. Kids!

Moonlight was where I cut my teeth as a political debater. An editor of the campus paper, Kurt, was the most left-wing person I had yet encountered. He regularly received threats from reactionary students, but he never shrunk from sight. His dorm room door had fliers opposing US missiles in Western Europe, on which some student scrawled "Commie!" Inside, a huge poster of Fidel Castro hung over his bed, lefty publications strewn around. This was where I first read The Militant, organ of the Socialist Workers Party, an organization my Army superiors warned us to avoid. But with headlines openly celebrating the Sandinista revolution, my curiosity trumped my patriotism. Within weeks, I regularly had copies of The Militant in my barracks room. Nobody cared. Amazing that we won the Cold War, eh?

Despite this new reading material, I was still a mainstream liberal who supported Ted Kennedy and then John Anderson. Kurt attacked me from the left, which was a new sensation. (I heard that after graduating, Kurt moved to the right and worked for a Republican politico, an honored American tradition.) But in time I returned the favor to Kurt's friend, Mike, who claimed to be a communist, a map of Eastern Europe on his dorm wall.

After reading and digesting numerous reports of Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the territories and southern Lebanon, I began questioning the official narrative of plucky little Israel fighting off the savages. This sent Mike into hysterics. "The PLO puts anti-aircraft weapons in schoolyards and hospital grounds! They force Israel to bomb those targets!" That was the first but not last time I'd hear that defense. It also taught me that Zionism cuts across ideological lines. Back then, you couldn't critically say the word Zionist, lest you be considered a Nazi. It was all too emotional for me, yet exciting. (Mike did introduce me to Oingo Boingo, their album Only A Lad a Lounge favorite.*) Some of these conversations began seeping into my scripts for Kamakaze Radio, the official comedy group of the Moonlight Lounge.

I spent countless weekends in that room, spanning 1980 to '82. I spent so much time at Butler that some acquaintances thought I went to school there. I did, on occasion, attend classes with my friend Dave. I also dined in Atherton Hall, using Dave's student ID, where I was introduced to vegetarianism by Dave's roommate, Brett, a brilliant guy whom I idolized at the time. I was very confused, raw, lost, angry, seeking some kind of balance, while Brett seemed complete and together, confident, funny, and cool. The lack of a father figure as a kid did a serious number on my young mind, so I sought replacements. Brett was the first of many.

Revisiting the Butler campus during Final Four weekend brought back these and many other memories. It reminded me that for a brief time, being a Hoosier wasn't a complete drag. Most of us were Indiana natives, some of us looking to leave for bigger stages. We shared many tastes, forged a deep camaraderie that still exists, however yellowed its edges. Though it has a few new buildings, Butler University remains the small school where my mind and muse expanded. I suppose that's why I wept when Butler narrowly lost to Duke in the national championship game. The team's tournament run stirred up old emotions, put me in touch with those I've hadn't spoke to in years. We all felt the magic of now, the passion of then. I don't know how we would've felt had Gordon Hayward's shot hit at the buzzer, but I suspect it would have been pretty fucking powerful. It still feels pretty sweet, all things considered.

HOW CLOSE? Sport Science does the math on Hayward's final shot. Man oh man oh man.

*OTHER LOUNGE FAVES: Ramones, The Clash, B-52s, Boomtown Rats, Sex Pistols, English Beat, The Specials, Bob Marley, Blondie, Devo, Talking Heads, X, Adrian Belew, King Crimson, Adam and The Ants, Psychedelic Furs, The Go Gos, Pretenders, Dead Kennedys, Suburban Lawns, Gang of Four. What sides did you bring?