By Ken Bradbury
Lynn said he never slept … ever. He told me that he could remember sleeping a little when he was in grade school but by the time I met him in college he claimed to have never slept a wink. His Illinois College (IC) roommate was Rick, and Rick said that as far as he could tell Lynn was telling the truth. “He sits on his bed,” said Rick, “and sometimes lies down to read, but I never saw him sleep in the three years I roomed with him.” Lynn went on to become a college professor of sociology, I think. As far as I know he’s still not sleeping.
I was thinking recently about the truly extraordinary characters that I met in college. “Extraordinary” is being polite. They were just plain weird.
Parks and I lived on one of those short streets north of the courthouse on the third floor of a house that I think was demolished as soon as we moved out. The guy on the second floor would stretch out on the hood of his Camaro on every sunny day to get a tan. I have no idea what kept him from getting third degree burns on his back. The first floor was occupied by half of Jacksonville. Seriously. Parks and I never could tell who lived there since the front door stood open all day long while a string of unsavory characters would come in and out at all hours. Parks guessed that the first floor resident was selling milk or perhaps was running a shoe repair business. Parks came from a small town.
But the weirdest resident of our three-story fun house was Parks himself. The kid had strange tastes. I’d known him since high school and other than a penchant for playing the trombone late at night he seemed pretty normal … that is until he got hungry. Every night at midnight Parks would open a can of Campbell’s tomato soup, add a little milk, then absolutely drench the whole thing in garlic powder. I don’t mean a little garlic powder here, but rather a third of a container of a McCormick garlic tin. That stuff would do damage to the coating of a porcelain soup bowl so I had no idea what it was doing to Parks’ stomach. He offered me some … once. That was enough. And my third floor roommate’s taste in drinks was just as creepy. If I’d not seen him do this with my own eyes I’d have not believed it, but when Parks would sit down to eat at a restaurant he’d ask the waitress if she’d empty the liquid from a jar of dill pickles and serve it to him on ice. It always had to be on ice, and in many cases the waitress would oblige. I think that most of our wait staff were afraid that he was deranged and thus they’d do anything to appease him.
I doubt that all the weirdos were confined to Illinois College, but it seemed that our allotment of eccentrics was disproportionate to the size of a small college … like our student body president, Bill, who ran for office by sitting under the desk in his dormitory room for two weeks to protest compulsory chapel attendance. Two weeks. Under a desk. He’s now a doctor of divinity. Weird. Just plain weird.
And then there was the Toad. I’m sure he had another name but no one seemed to know this guy who lived in the bowels of Gardner Hall dormitory. The basement of the place wasn’t really a dorm room and at various times had housed various things. I can remember it being the campus radio station. But despite the fact that it wasn’t meant to be, Toad made it his dwelling. And the really strange thing is that I don’t think he attended Illinois College. He came to all the dorm events and ate in the cafeteria but to my knowledge no one had ever seen him in class. And he had ducks. Dorm rules strictly prohibited pets of any kind but Toad kept a small fleet of quackers in basement. I think they were small ducks by the sound of their quacking, and I never knew what happened to them … or Toad.
Frazier was a senior when I was a freshman and he lived across the hall from me. Standing about six foot two and composed of perhaps 240 pounds of pure muscle and grit, he was a tackle on the IC football team. I really liked Frazier and I was glad that he liked this poor little freshman. Before a football game he’d recline on his dormitory bed wearing headphones blasting “In a Gadda Da Vida,” to get psyched for the game. When the team would take the field Frazier would lead them onto the field with a hunk of raw steak hanging from his mouth. Frazier would often roar late at night. I don’t think he drank, just roared.
The students didn’t have a monopoly on strangeness. Professor Rolf would openly advocate the overthrow of our college president, L. Vernon Caine … our college chaplain had written his dissertation on the Playboy Philosophy … one professor wandered the campus wearing sandals and a coarse robe. No one was sure what he taught, but I think he may have been related to Toad.