My most mortifying moment at Mount Hermon took place in physics class where I was seated in the front row, at the extreme left side. We each had recently procured a slide rule, about a foot long, and had begun learning how to use them. Amidst the background chitchat as class was about to get underway I thought of an experiment my classmates would surely enjoy that would only take a second. I proceeded to press down against my desktop on the larger, outer part of my slide rule which otherwise extended leftwards unsupported off the edge. From there I cantilevered the narrower slide itself until it reached ~20 inches into thin air. I then positioned my left arm as if to measure the elastic constant of my springboard and pressed firmly downwards on the far end – and released – anticipating the damping resonant rhythm that would both introduce and conclude my surprise presentation.
Whatever sound emanated from my desk was only a footnote to the explosive crash against the far right wall of the classroom and fall to the floor of the airborne slider. The silence of the tomb descended on the room instantly. The high speed projectile had crossed over the front row desks slightly above eye-level. Walt Congdon, who happened to have been standing before the desk immediately to the right of mine, calmly strolled over, stooped to pick up the no-doubt still-warm unguided missile, and returned it to my desk with only a momentary glance midway back during which his eyes penetrated deeply into mine and no words were spoken. He was almost smiling; no one had died.
Jon Romig and I were roommates sophomore year and one evening decided to perform an experiment to sample the new dimensions of experience that seemed to be unfurling before the eyes of our generation. I think it was the suitcase-turntable my Grandmother had given to me in elementary school (with music by Grieg) that we pressed into service, along with the Mount Hermon Store Tensor desk lamp I use to this day. Destination: a strobe light. We cut out a circle of cardboard, smaller circles within it, to center it on the tabletop and pass, each half revolution, an opening the size of the Tensor’s shade over the upturned lamp positioned adjacent the case.
Lying back on our beds in the darkened room we proceeded with caution: 33-1/3 rpm. A blinking light as anticipated; OK. We ratcheted up the frequency incrementally without incident or emergent phenomena. Upon reaching 4 holes and 78 rpm we settled in routinely for the drill: turntable on, light on, observe. About 15 seconds into this round Jon shouted, “Shut it off!” We had the same reaction: we wanted to get out of that room as fast as possible. We stumbled toward the door, fumbled for the light switch and tumbled into the hall. If Jon articulated his experience, I’ve not retained it. But I was blown away by the fish-eye lens effect I endured with declining intensity for ~30 seconds. As I scanned from side-to-side, the walls of the hall bulged towards each other menacingly! At 5.2 hertz, we had entered the realm of delta and theta brainwaves. The apparatus was disassembled without a thought for the repeatability of our finding.
The quality of Mount Hermon instruction was almost uniformly superb. The only exception was not the fault of the teacher who I don’t remember at all. Especially in comparison to the depth and breadth of material, the well-honed strategies to facilitate essential truths sinking in and the clear-cut purpose for drawing our attention in that direction characteristic of all the other classes, “Urban Planning” exuded odd discomfort with its own inability to explain, let alone justify itself, despite ostensibly being a natural human concern of undeniable importance.
It was hard to know how to take it – like when Alan Gilliland returned from Christmas vacation in California with his sentences freshly salted with “biiiiitchin’”. The take-home messages seemed to include: contempt for natural processes, impatience with logical methodology, inexplicable satisfaction with making a break from history and unwarranted admiration for a disconnection-themed integrity-free mosaic. The inferred intended fruit: scrambled brains. Surreal. In retrospect it was my first conscious exposure to the work product of institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations; I felt the chilling tickle of the tentacles of tyranny. The Deep State was the first and oldest of the three big political parties to impale itself on its own myopia – so far – in the 21st century. Hey! Ben Franklin invented the bifocals a while back.