(The following was written by "sd" prior to September 11th, in anticipation of the game against his alma mater, San Jose State. In light of steady demise of the Spartan program, sd recalls a headier, sudsier, happier time. As another Fall brings another class of freshmen to The Farm, let's recall another fall – long gone, but not forgotten. At least not by sd.)
Silicon Valley and San Jose State U. haven't always been what they are today. There was a time when the Valley was a real place, not just state of mind, and San Jose State "College" enrolled college-age kids who pulled college-kid stunts. The beer was cold, the girls were drop-dead gorgeous (ask the Stanford guys of that vintage who used to motor down 101 to shamelessly poach), and people actually attended football games.
I was a freshman in the fall of 1965 and San Jose State was still living up (or down, depending on your standards) to its 1950's reputation as a party school with a notoriously prominent Greek system. And a big-time sports scene. Or, as writer Murray Sperber would describe later, a dubious but festive atmosphere of "beer and circus." Stanford was on the football schedule. And Bud Winter coached the track team. To me, this was a big deal because it validated San Jose State as a big-time environment. Stanford was a school whose teams I had followed passionately since grade school.
OK, San Jose State was no Ivy, but it was irresistible to a small-town high-school twerp itching to escape what he considered Hicksville. The SJS student body in 1965 was bigger than my hometown (20,000-plus students and counting), had a brand name in the Bay Area, far enough away to feel like you were going "away" to college and close enough to be convenient. And my parents could afford it.
And, lest I forget, the academic curriculum at San Jose State was varied and, in fact, solidly respectable. Indeed, as I would observe when I got there, a lot of very capable students couldn't hack it. The flunk-out rate was about 50 percent during freshman year. It was no skate. Temptation abounded. Two good friends of mine, whom today are wildly successful in their business careers in Silicon Valley and wealthy beyond most peoples'dreams, were failed students at San Jose State in the late ‘60s.
San Jose State didn't care that I wasn't high-school class valedictorian. In fact, during endless, nail-biting weeks following high-school graduation, it seemed that San Jose State didn't care about me at all. Or my pal, Stan Harris, our high-school student body president, no less.
It wasn't until late July, in fact, after countless phone calls and letters to the admissions office, where our transcripts had apparently been mishandled, that Harris and I finally received our form greetings-of-welcome, which we promptly and ritualistically tacked to our respective bedroom walls. I have never taken such an impersonal letter so personally. I positioned mine right above the wall-mounted bikini bottoms that one of my sister's girlfriends had given to me as a college going-away present. I could think of no greater place of honor.
To my wide-eyed wonder and delight, campus life was absolutely as advertised. In fact, it was better. There was every kind of temptation to nudge, or shove, a young guy off the straight and narrow paths led between dorm, library and classroom. Temptation abounded in the form of keg parties, small parties, large parties, frat-rush parties and something called "pre-parties," which is what you attended before going to the actual party.
On the 100 block of South 11th Street stood the campus's bad-boy fraternity. Since the 1978 movie Animal House it's become cliché for practically every guy who was ever in a fraternity, and for some guys who probably were not, to identify their house, and their social life, with the antics of the brothers of Delta Tau Chi, the fictitious fraternity in the movie.
Most of their recollections are inflated, to say the least.
Take my word, however, that Delta Upsilon (DU) at San Jose State in the autumn of 1965 could have been the prototype for the fictitious "Deltas." As it turned out, the autumn of '65 was the last hurrah for the San Jose State DU's. It seems that, like the Animal House Deltas, the DU's were on double-secret probation, or something equivalent. And just like in the movie, the brothers decided to inflict that one, last, debauchery on the world.
Rumors were spreading during the first week of Fall classes, that Tara the Snake Dancer, a notorious act from San Francisco's Broadway nightclub strip, would be the headline attraction at the D.U. house to conclude rush week. Nobody believed it. But sure enough, on a warm Friday evening in late September, as a climax to the week's membership drive, the DU's outdid even themselves – already notorious for staking out party territory far beyond the pale of good judgment, or sanity for that matter.
To the lusty cheers and chants of hundreds of predominantly male partygoers and rubberneckers, in various degrees of sobriety, spilling out of the house and onto South 11th Street (which did wonders for traffic), Tara bumped, shimmied and undulated on the frat-house roof with a large, live python draped around her neck and bare boobs while the song "Gloria" – G-L-O-R-I-A – blared from the stereo speakers at her feet.
It took about ten minutes before the arrival of several squad cars and a paddy wagon heralded an official end to the evening's festivities. By then, the crowd had grown from several hundred to a couple of thousand.
But the legend of Tara on the DU roof was etched forever in the consciousness of Fraternity Row. I don't know if there were any arrests made that night. Or if the SPCA confiscated the snake. But DU was handed what amounted to the death penalty: official campus probation, which meant no more parties. No parties meant no pledges, which meant no revenue. And in the wobbly world of fraternity financials, this was capital punishment.
All of this actually happened. Share on Twitter