Gnostic Nostalgia

Yesterday was a bit of a blah. I was entrusted with motoring FD SCP about on a shopping expedition intended to recover the opportunity lost on Friday when we had to look for a solution to our refrigerator demise. It may not have been Black Friday but it was definitely Gray Saturday with rain popping through every hour or so for a few moments, just enough to maintain a high level of uncertainty of when to engage the windshield wipers.

It was also gray in that all we brought back was a couple of small bags of stuff. I am not sure if it was a matter of the stores’ inventories having been depleted on Friday, scant inventory to begin with in anticipation of scant purchasing, depressed outlook, or a combination of the three – or even some fourth cause unconsidered. It is somewhat suspicious that out of six stores visited, only three yielded adequate temptations. I perceive here some of that pernicious apathy I indicated previously: storekeepers anticipating scant sales and minimizing their stockage; customers leery of spending money but avid for “bargains”. The combination is one of those cooperative things that turns into a spiral of interaction, in this case one of negative form.

So with such dismal result, I was intrigued this morning to read the weekly eNewspaper of my high shul class. I reproduce here a set of rules published in the shul (paper) newspaper back in ’62:

  1. Students are expected to be on time.
  2. All absences must be excused by a note from a parent and approved by Mr. ****
  3. Students are not allowed in front of the school after eight AM.
  4. Students are not allowed in the auditorium at any time unless instructed otherwise .
  5. Smoking for boys is not allowed except at the specified time and place.
  6. Smoking for girls is not allowed.. Girls who violate this rule will be suspended.

As has been my wont when presented with such lists, I cannot resist a few comments.

I am a bit mystified by number one, but being an introvert and suffering a touch of Asperger’s, well I should. Lackadaisical punctuality is a bit of a Southron shul tradition, perhaps ending with my generation who lived through the cessation of the shul break in the fall for cotton picking. In those days, the ’40’s and ’50’s, cotton was still picked by hand, and the shuls would recess for a week (or so) each fall to permit children to assist their parents in wresting the white fiber balls from their leathery leaf husks. Some of my cohort still possess scars from this activity, the husks were sharp and abrasive and it was not kulturny to run weeping over every little gash and blood flow.

This recess had disappeared by the ’60’s with the diffusion of agricultural mechanization, a matter that prompted us to argue with the syllabus for Alibam history that the cotton picker was more important, at least to us, than the cotton gin, a cessation that we did not weep over. Still, there were still some small farms in the city limits and the children still had chores to be done before shul could be attended. To those stout yeoman parents any education beyond the basic “R”‘s was superfluous and they had scant patience for the frivolities of the curriculum. Such attitudes were passed on to their children, if not for absorption, at least for tardiness.

Number two had its roots in this as well, plus the natural laziness of humans.  It never afflicted me as I was a rather unimaginative rule follower – when the rules were properly published; I had a lot of problems with rules that were supposed to be known but were never presented until one violated them. Luckily this was a period when nerds were tolerated, if not revered, well, by the administrivium, not by the jocks and cheerleaders. We were trash to them and they poor bogs to us. But I did have pangs of sympathy for the kids whose parents thought the note thing irrelevant and condemned their children to an Oreo existence.

I have to admit to being a bit mystified about number three. My time at shul was pretty well scheduled. I suppose there were those who did want to sneak off but I have to wonder why the specificity. Of course management had as bad a track record in those days of explaining as they do today. Who says Taylor is dead? But I can well understand number four. The auditorium had a very high ceiling, and it had a separate, if inadequate, air conditioning system. The rest of the shul also had an inadequate air conditioning system, and the allure of sneaking off to the auditorium was that it was cool and dark. And if one had a companion of the opposite gender, so much the better.

We thought we were in good shape. When my cohort started shul, none of the buildings were air conditioned. This made the first two and last two months of classes hideous and ineffective. I well recall in sixth grade selling candy door to door to raise money to buy a window unit for my class room. And then the next year I went in to junior high with class changes and it was all for naught.

Numbers five and six are the interesting ones. First, note how where and when is not specified. This was typical. Clarity in what was forbidden, ambiguity in what was permitted. The key indicators of a tyranny. The double standard between the genders was not only common in those days, but blatant. In fact, it was so blatant that I did not recognize it until I was in college.

In those days, women had all sorts of rules men did not. When I was at the campus of the Black Warrior the coeds were not permitted to wear pants to class or indeed in public during the class week. They could wear them on the weekend if they wore a long raincoat over. They could wear shorts if they were participating in an athletic activity.

Women had a curfew, and could be expelled for violating it. They were also not permitted the use of the front steps of the student union and this restriction was severly enforced by the fraternity jocks who would mug alumni wives on football weekends for their hubris. I believe women were not permitted to smoke in public, but no one paid much attention to that in the nerd circle I frequented. We were so seldom exposed to coeds that we had no idea what proper behavior on either side was.

I also recall when I went off to graduate shul at the campus of the Boneyard that my parents found out some of the dorms on campus were coed – men and women. They were only placated to permit my attendance when they were assured that the men and women were kept locked in on separate floors. But I always wondered about the fire escapes.

As much as these rules now take on a sort of macabre humor they do serve a purpose in helping us look for what our unsensed prejudices today are.