My dad, James Whitmore, Part Ten


I loved it when girls said “yes” to me. The universe would open wide and this embrace of infinity would encircle me with warmth, comfort and euphoria. Sometimes, just maybe, happiness was not too far behind.

But I had other pressing challenges at hand needing immediate attention.

I had to get in this bizarre school called Callison College. It didn’t have any grades. You couldn’t even flunk. It was the late 60s and everybody was experimenting. It was more expensive than College of the Pacific, which is where I had been accepted. C.O.P., as it was called, was a traditional college. Traditional expectations. Grades. Attendance. All that kind of real stuff.

Callison College – one of a few cluster colleges housed on the University of Pacific site – didn’t sound anything like C.O.P. It sounded totally insane. First off, it focused on international studies. Your sophomore year was in India. This is the place to be. No grades. Attendance, yes, but work at your own pace kind of thing. If you didn’t do well, you received a “no credit.” You didn’t flunk. Problem was it was late in the summer and the real semester was going to start in a couple weeks. Rosters were set. Classes and dorms assigned.

I rooted out one of the Callison teachers and they thought it was too late also for the Fall semester but maybe later. No go. I had to get in right away. He mentioned I could talk to the provost. I did. Found him in the hallway one day and pestered him with admittance questions. He was slightly taken aback as I remember – having this crazed energized bunny with wild Bob Dylan-like hair sermonizing on the vitality of my attendance at Callison. Probably, out of sheer frustration, he pushed back, saying he would look into the possibility but not to get my hopes up.

A few days later, I gently busted into his office and asked again. He said he’d looked into the situation and my grades were not the caliber required for the school. I would not be deterred. I proselytized on the difference between grades and creative accomplishments. I hammered home the theory that this school held the key to my future. He smiled. I think he may have even laughed. He finally said that he would take my request to the board – whatever that was – but before that was done, I should write an essay on why I should be a student at Callison.

Easy. Can’t be that hard. Wait a minute, I thought. I’m going to write them something they won’t ever forget. Ego, yes. Confidence, for sure. I got that from my dad. He always said it didn’t matter what others thought, it only mattered what you thought. “Just as long as it didn’t hurt anybody else.” I will always remember that.

I did have one small problem: I didn’t know anything about international studies. I didn’t really know where Stockton, California was, and I was in it. So, I wrote a poem – of sorts.

To be honest I can’t remember the poem’s content but I remember the title: “The Autobiography of a Jamaican Strongman or Spontaneous Scientific Thought Concerning Western Civilization.” Now if that wasn’t enough, I wrote the poem in the form of pictures; I used the words to form curved lines, circles, squares.

There was this girl who’d taken a shine to me, God only knows why, and she volunteered to write the entire piece in calligraphy. And she did. She wrote the entire piece with all its movements, curvatures, pictures, circles, squares, etc., in beautiful calligraphy.

And she wrote it on an entire roll of paper towels stolen from one of the dormitory bathrooms. These were the brown paper towels that were one long sheet. You would pull them out from below and then tear them off to dry your hands.

She put this entire piece on one long, brown paper towel in beautiful calligraphy. Then we burnt the edges to make it look ancient, rolled it up and tied it together with a red ribbon. I turned it in and was accepted on the spot. Probably my dad’s fame and fortune had something to do with it as well. In any event, I was off and running into a school staffed by crazed professors finding their way in this new world of education. And I was leading a pack of students dying to try new things, be different, see different, catch the wind and fly as high as you can. We were all “…Bozos on this Bus,” as the Firesign Theatre said in its comedy album. And we were raring to go.

Part Eleven: India, closing the school by protests. Getting booted out of India onto the streets of Tehran, the capital of Iran.


About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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