the beginning: a little too much about the author

"the beginning: a little too much about the author" is the first article to appear during the 1958-59 school year in the University of Notre Dame Scholastic humor column, "Escape".

  • By John Bellairs: Scholastic, Vol. 100, No. 1 - October 3, 1958; page 7.

Once again, summer is icumen out and the merry students are icumen in. In other words (and better ones, too) the academic year, such as it is, has begun. It is time for the weather to become worse than usual, for the leaves to turn from their usual withered brown to a sodden, rain-bleached gray. It is time, also, for rectors and campus policemen to practice up for the open season on I.D.'s (which will probably be received by the students in early December) . . . time for the shabby, cheaply bound, 25c editions of Marx's Communist Manifesto in the Book Store to be hidden under a pile of copies of Lithography Made Easy, while a stack of shabby, cheaply bound, 75c editions of the Communist Manifesto are prominently displayed near the entrance . . . time for the Dining Hall to reopen, thus providing a thriving business for the dimly-lit South Bend pizza palazzos. And, of course, it is therefore time for the SCHOLASTIC to throw itself into the laps of the unsuspecting freshmen and the hostile upperclassmen. To make matters worse, "Escape" is back, with a pair of new dealers stacking the collective deck. The editor, in his questionable wisdom, does not like too much of a good thing. Therefore he is going to turn over my inferior writings and old grocery lists to an imitator, Charles Bowen, who will rework them into a column which he will pass off as his own every other week. It is all right with me if you read the work of this mental pariah, but remember to allow a slight sneer to cross your face as you read.

I find myself in the odd position of filling with type (pronounced "tripe") the space which I used to view with disgust on occasion, and which I used to condemn with such phrases as "Echh! I could have done better in my sleep!" or "Well, that SCHOLASTIC makes a nice liner for the wastebasket, anyway." So, with good intentions and a weather-eye for brickbats, the author manifests himself to the hooting mob.

My name, as you may have guessed by now, is John Bellairs. I am known to my friends, none of whom have reached the age of reason, as Jollivar (American spelling), and live in 119 Sorin. The mention of the hall which is South Bend's answer to the House of Usher brings to mind an interesting fact: I have never known of a humor column editor who did not live in either Sorin or Walsh. There is a simple explanation for this, but I can't think of it at the moment, so let the matter drop. Anyway, I would like to say that this column is traditionally the home of the "Sorin joke" which is unintelligible to those who live outside these mouldering walls. Therefore, for the record, I will state that these Sorin jokes will continue for at least two shabby reasons:

(1) To satisfy the aforementioned mindless friends, most of whom live in or around Sorin.

(2) To fill space.

(2¼) To antagonize people so that they will write letters to "Repercussions," "Backwash," or whatever the Vox Pop. column is going to be called this year.

Further information about the author: I have never held a position of importance in any club to which I have belonged, and I am not now, and never have been, a member of student government. My room is at least 15 feet high, its exact height being a mystery because of the everpresent cloud formations, and is decorated to resemble a cross between a Victorian tenement and a Pompeian attic. I have the largest collection of miniature cuspidors in the South Bend-Mishawaka area, and hold the indoor record for free-style junk collecting. Outside of this, I am like any other normal Sorinite, a frightening thought in itself.


Incoming freshmen will be deliriously happy to know that "Escape" has penetrated the wall of red tape and scowling guards surrounding this year's registration system, just in time to be too late to do any good whatsoever. However, for the benefit of those who will be around to register next semester, I will set down some easy-to-follow directions which will guide the unwary student through this semiannual program with a minimum of broken pencils and nervous seizures.

(1) Your student number will not be what you think it is. Thus it will be necessary for each student to carry a list of all possible combinations of numbers. As a short cut, it might be wise to obtain a list of 1927 Ohio license plates, as it has been hinted that next semester's numbers will be drawn from this source.

(2) In addition to this list, it will be necessary for the student to take to the Drill Hall the following items:

a. A list of the courses available at the University, printed in Latin, Braille, and Hindustani, on vellum, and bound in morocco leather, embossed with the coat of arms of the Archduke of Saxe-Coburg. These will be available at the Book Store, and may be paid for on the installment plan.

b. A small papyrus scroll on which your schedule of courses will be inscribed in Notre Dame India Ink (also available at the Book Store).

c. Twelve gross of pencils, sharpened.

d. Presents of varying expense, to be used as propitiatory offerings for professors and deans.

e. Smelling salts and 50 ccs. of morphine solution.

f. A copy of Barmeister's Atlas and Almanac for 1877.

Anything else you can think of.

(3) Thus equipped, the student will then proceed to the entrance, where he will present himself to the guard, who will be dressed as a hussar in the Napoleonic army circa 1812. The guard will give the password "Red (4)Tape" and the countersign will be "IBM".

(4) Once inside, the student will give three blasts on a ram's horn, summoning the guard of the inner chambers, who will escort the student to a row of booths hung with purple draperies. Inside each booth will be found a representative of a particular department, clad in a costume reminiscent of a Western gambler's c. 1880. In his hand will be a deck of cards. The student will play a hand of showdown, blackjack, or faro (choice of one) to determine the hours of his class. This done the student must go to table 8, touch something of wood, turn about three times, and then take the equipment mentioned in Step (2) to table 9, where it will be confiscated. After an hour, the student will be presented with his inscribed papyrus scroll. THIS WILL BE THE ONLY RECORD OF CLASSES AND HOURS AND MUST NOT BE LOST.

(5) Repeat steps (3) and (4), this time in disguise.

(6) Enroll in another University. 


Alfred Myers noted this article has nothing that needs explanation except:

"For the sake of historical record, the pizza parlor of choice was Febbo's. All in all, the Febbo's experience would make an ideal chapter in the most aptly-titled book ever written, Chronicles of Wasted Time - by Malcolm Muggeridge." [1]

As far as identifying himself as Jollivar, Bowen feels this name refers to an inner circle he didn't belong to:

"I don't remember this nickname. I did hear lots of people call him 'Jolly John.' I didn't call him that because, having grown up as a fat kid myself, I was sensitive to stereotypes. No one meant anything offensive, of course; everyone who knew John seemed to like him, though he was - to say the least - not in the mainstream of student tastes and interests." [2]

Bowen further explained during Bellairs's time on campus the registration process was being gradually computerized under the direction of a gentleman in the Registrar's office named Leo Corbaci:

"This was so early in the computer age that we didn't call them computers; we called them IBM machines and the punch cards on which our schedules were printed IBM cards. The registration process constantly seemed to change from one semester to the next, and we often couldn't understand the reasons for these changes. This is the background for John's account of the arcane registration procedure he invented in his initial column. I also had a column regarding the process as well." [2]


  • [1] Correspondence with Alfred Myers.
  • [2] Correspondence with Charles Bowen.

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