Thursday, May 15, 2008

Western Civ Final 1984

The closest thing liberal arts students ever came to a Law School exam was the Western Civilization final. One needed to know a long list of thinkers and ideas from Plato to Aldous Huxley to score high. The Western Civ department knew it was a hard test, and they sponsored a balls-out review in dueling lecture-toriums at Wescoe Hall in the middle of KU campus one night a few days before the final exam. 700 sophomores scribbled notes for three hours while TA after TA presented snippets on DesCartes, Niechtze, and St. Thomas Aquinas to name a few.

My friend Shanahan and I sat 30 rows up from the stage with a jam box between us. Shanahan recorded the session on cassette tape so he didn't miss anything. Lecturers went back and forth between the two auditoriums, doing their tight-five on the big minds of history for each group of 350 students, like they do with Blues shows in the Kingston Mines in Chicago. Oh, wait, that's the reverse. The audience moves between two stages there. Never mind.

Some tweed jacket was late starting his set and the crowd in our auditorium grew restless. Shanahan didn't miss the opportunity. He popped in the Talking Heads version of Take Me To the River and turned up the blaster volume. Everybody started groovin' and when I say groovin' imagine a bunch of white kids from the suburbs of Kansas City doin' the flat shoe boogie. I mean, I don't want to overstate it. There was serious head nodding going on, and about the time the vocals kicked in, 60 seconds into the song, Professor wildhair with the notes on Machiavelli showed up. We shut it down, even though we didn't want to, but Shanahan broke the tension in the room, and I didn't care as much about the Western Civ final after that, in fact this story is about the only thing I remember about the evening. I think I got a B.

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