We can learn a lot from `Hairman'
Gary J. Caruso
Each football season contains a lottery of friends who return for a game. Last weekend, I was lucky enough to avoid my accountant, but happy that I ran into my freshman year roommate. While all of my Notre Dame friends are unique in certain ways, my roommate was one of three on my floor to attend the original Woodstock in 1969. Last week, 30 years later at Notre Dame, it felt like we had only been gone for summer vacation.
Thirty years ago, Woodstock was a happening that just happened. Having grown up in suburban Pittsburgh, I did not live as close to the New York location as my roommate who lived in Connecticut. So while I watched the television as the first man landed on the moon during the early summer, my roommate-to-be was making plans to attend this great outdoor rock festival.
Many have criticized this year's Woodstock riots. Much has been said and written by those who attended the first Woodstock, but none of them would describe it quite as uniquely as the roommate we called "Hairman." You see, "Hairman," better known to his parents as "Jim," was a rock aficionado. He followed bands across the country. He would partake in illegal smoking substances to enhance his senses. Most importantly, he embodied the sense of my generation by living and letting live.
Seeing the Hairman last week made me recall one early morning during my first fall at Notre Dame when he and I had stayed up late, sitting only in our underwear and talking about "things." Today it would be called "stuff," but the topics would be identical. Do you say "pop" or "soda?" What social group were you considered a part of during high school, etc. On that particular night we talked music, which led to Woodstock.
Jim was about 6-foot-3 with long hair that curled into an Afro style that must have grown a foot and a half out on each side of his head by the end of our freshman year. He wore glasses that put Coke bottles to shame. In fact, his sight was so bad that one day he mistook the dorm maid who had a Brooklyn accent for one of our male classmates from New York. (The maid had a low voice due to smoking.) He never had to worry about passing the physical for service in Vietnam.
During a conversation with Jim, he would constantly stroke his hair, thus earning the name "Hairman." While we sat around that one late night in our undies, he stroked true to form. However, his friends soon learned to ignore the distraction and pay close attention to the content of his statements. That night I came away with an insight from our section "Hairman" that helped me develop socially.
Woodstock meant nothing to me, yet it was the height of Jim's teenage years. He smiled incessantly while he spoke of his experience at a festival containing his heart's first love — music. It was not so much the stories of drugs, sex, mud and music that impressed me. It was his outlook on living with others and accepting others without judgment. And while he opposed the Vietnam War, he never said a personally derogatory comment about any individual who happened to support the war.
My friend the Hairman now works with computers, sans music content of any kind or connection. It is funny how even though Jim's technological achievements can support his musical interests, he has not followed his first love. Life dictated that he be allowed to follow his heart's desire only during it's most idyllic period — the teenage years. But he taught me, by his exampl, without ever knowing it, about accepting others.
To me, the lessons Hairman taught me as a student are evident during the first few weeks of school at Notre Dame. Those early days of the school year are the most socially important for a student. The upperclassmen can attest to how friendly everyone is and then how quickly everyone falls into a rut that they follow the rest of the semester, if not the entire year. I often wondered what the year might be like if everyone conducted themselves like they did those first few days of the school year.
I suggest that students take a few moments each week to sit at a different place in the dining hall or to speak with someone different in each class. You may be surprised at the end of the year at the number of friends you've made.
It is an easy practice to begin, especially when you are having a bad hair day. Think of my former roommate, Hairman, and how you may be approaching someone who has such extraordinary experiences similar to the headlines Woodstock did my freshman year — xperiences and lessons that will endure 30 years later at a football game.
Gary J. Caruso, Notre Dame '73, is currently serving in President Clinton's administration as a Congressional and public affairs director and worked at the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 years. His column appears every other Friday, and his Internet address is Hottline@aol.com.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, October 12, 1999