In the fall of 1959 I left home to go to university. The question of what I wanted to be when I grew up seemed to be settled – I would be an architect. During the last years of high school I began to pore over magazines with house floor plans and to draw my own. I dreamed of creating wonderful structures like those of Frank Lloyd Wright and le Corbusier. On the other hand, the cold glass and steel of Mies van der Rohe’s buildings left me cold.
I was accepted by the School of Architecture at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. My Grade 12 marks were good enough to win a $500.00 scholarship. Mom, as always, was supportive and encouraging. Dad didn’t say much but seemed satisfied that I was going to make something of myself.
It should have worked. I was grown up on the outside, maybe even reasonably close to intellectual maturity, but inside I was still the little boy who was afraid of the shadows on the walls. My wounded emotions were so thoroughly swathed with layer upon layer of protective bandages that I was walking through life like a living mummy, aware of what was going on around me, but never able to participate.
I had lost all interest in church and Christianity, yet had no interest in partying either. Girls were strange and frightening, unless their name was Joan. At each stage of my years of schooling there was a girl named Joan whom I could talk to without stammering or breaking out in a cold sweat. There were four of them altogether, at different times.
I saw Coke machines dropped down the stairwells of the residence and various other shenanigans on campus. But I was a watcher, not a participant. I read or watched TV until late at night, then could barely stay awake through the lectures.
Two classes brought me to life. One was mechanical drawing, or drafting. That I enjoyed and did well at. The other was English. We spent that first semester studying three utopian novels: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell; Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley and Erewhon by Samuel Butler. Nowadays they would be called dystopian, but the word didn’t exist in 1959. I was intrigued and was able to analyze and comment on them to the professor’s satisfaction.
I failed the other courses because I drowsed through the lectures and didn’t study the textbooks. By the time I realized how far behind I was it was too late to make up lost time in that semester. Surely there would be some way to catch up during the next semester, but I had no plan on how to do it and was afraid to ask for help.
I obtained a student loan of $300.00 to cover my living expenses for the next semester. I cashed the cheque and put the money in my back pocket, intending to pay my residence fees the next day. Then I went down to the lounge in the residence and fell asleep watching TV. When I woke up the money in my back pocket was gone.