My senior year in college was the most fun from a curricular standpoint. I had completed nearly all the required subjects and saved classes in my major field of Psychology for my last year. My schedule included several upper division Psychology classes that consisted of field work, writing, and little classroom drudgery. They included Experimental Psychology that required me to spend lots of time in the lab helping with the experiments, cleaning the rat cages, etc. I learned that rats were purchased from a breeding company and experiments were only done with “naïve” rats, meaning they had not been used in other experiments. It also meant that when the experiment was over... well, Goodbye Mr. Rat.
I also took a class that required me to spend time as a volunteer at the state mental institution. The professor cautioned us to always carry our identification badges and told the story of a student who forgot his badge but went to a secure part of the hospital anyhow. When he tried to leave he was stopped. He insisted that he was a student volunteer but the orderly said, “Sure you are. Do you know how often we hear that?” As the story went the student volunteer spent a week in the hospital before the error was discovered. We listened wide-eyed, believing every word and made mental notes to NEVER enter the hospital without out volunteer ID badge.
By my senior year my father had become a devotee of BYU. He had no idea what had changed me from high school flunkie to college student, but it must have been some magical formula or perhaps it was something in the water. He did not join the religion, but touted BYU as an excellent bargain for a highly rated private education – fees were comparable to those of a state school in PA, the environment was healthy, the culture was clean living, and even his own son who had been a hopeless near-failure in high school had become a serious student at BYU. His sales pitch sent dozens of young Clairton boys to BYU over the years. Two such students who started BYU during my senior year were Nick Jordan, who was a year ahead of me in high school but who had done a stint in the Marines, and Dennis Zdrale, the son of an widowed immigrant mother who attended the same church that my mother had. When my father told me they were coming and asked my to help arrange housing I arranged for a second floor apartment where the three of us would live that year. Nick and Dennis were very serious students and neither had much of a social life. Neither had joined the Mormon Church and both saw this experience as just a means to an end (a college degree from a private university).
Try as I might I was unable to get them involved in any shenanigans that typified college life. We rented three bedrooms in the attic a house that was on a corner and each day, as school children passed, a life-size cutout of a child, made of steel and called “Safety Sally” was placed in the middle of the intersection. After school hours Safety Sally was rolled to the sidewalk in front of our house. One evening we heard a loud “BANG!” Seems somebody had forgotten to roll Safety Sally to safety and a car had hit it, knocking the iron lady onto her side, and speeding away.
We discussed the irresponsibility of the driver and wondered if that was a fluke or if other drivers would flee from the scene if they hit Safety Sally. We walked down to the street level and reset Safety Sally in the middle of the intersection then returned to our porch to spy. Soon... BANG! Screech. We set it up again and again and again. Each time a different car would hit Sally then speed off. Finally we tired of the prank/experiment and returned to our apartment.
A short time later we heard a police radio and saw blinking lights. A police officer knocked on our door and asked if we knew anything about Safety Sally’s adventures that night. Dennis and I denied it but Nick, who was so straight it was difficult for him to walk around a corner, spilled the beans. We were given stern lectures, our names taken, and for good measure, were threatened with everything from being sued by the city to doing jail time to being suspended from school. Needless to say, Sally stayed at her assigned positions without our interference for the duration of the school year.
As mentioned earlier, my father became quite the devotee of BYU. In his mind it had changed me from a flake to a scholar and he was not sure what the formula was but he figured that if it worked for me it would work for anybody. My parents had a basement apartment in their home that they rented out as a source of extra income. Before long the Mormon missionaries who had been stationed in the area found a home there. Since many were either Utah natives or BYU alumni, it was one more link between my parents and a son who attended school 2,000 miles from home. My father also admired many of the LDS teachings, particularly their views and practice regarding family, education, and abstinence from liquor.