THE KITTEN AMENDMENT

By John Thomas Tuft

North Storer Avenue in Fayetteville, Arkansas, is a nondescript street on the edge of the University of Arkansas, home to the Razorback Hogs, some 20,000 students from all over the illustrious state gathered in the tenacious pursuit of knowledge…or something like that. At least that’s what their parents want to believe. In the Winter/Spring semester of 1973 my trusty 1960 Ford Fairlane 500 was parked around the corner on Douglas Street, with its bald tires and perpetually empty gas tank and cranky starter justifying my investment of the grand total of $150. That spring the activity that demanded our attention each evening was to gather along the sides of Maple Street where it bordered the campus, watching traffic go past. Well, truth be told, we were watching for those souls daring to bare all and go ‘streaking’ through said traffic. Naked, except for shoes or sandals, running full speed through traffic, up and over cars, with the occasional full splat onto unforgiving pavement. I kid you not. I guess you had to be there…

I had a draft card in my wallet with its 1A designation and the news was filled with Nixon’s Christmas bombing campaign of North Vietnam to force them to the peace table in Paris. I kid you not. In my two years at the illustrious institution, I had a grand total of two dates. One each with two different young ladies and that’s all we need to say about that. I lived at 612 Storer Ave. in a large boarding house, where I washed dishes and cleaned bathrooms in exchange for a good portion of my room and board. And in a house full of college students, cleaning up the kitchen and the bathrooms was no mean feat. But enough about that. My major was premed/psychology, but I dropped the premed part after failing to slay the mighty dragon of organic chemistry. For a psychological statistics course we had to design a program for some reason, go to the basement of the psych building to punch the program into computer cards, then sign up for time to run it on the behemoth computer lurking in the corner. If the machine didn’t gag on your cards, you passed the assignment. I kid you not. I guess you had to be there…

I was a thousand miles away from Pittsburgh, which may explain a lot about my choice of school. That was never more apparent than when an ice storm hit this very southern state. Complete chaos and gridlock ensued. Watching cotton hulls be spread on the slippery streets made this northern boy just shake his head in amazement. My first room in the boarding house was in the basement, a small windowless room where I discovered the previous occupant had left his stash of Playboy and Hustler and similar type magazines for me to discover. This type of literature had not been a part of the curriculum for Preacher’s Kid 101. As such, I decided that it warranted further investigation and continued to purchase monthly updates…for research purposes, mind you. And that has nothing to do with the all-nighter I pulled before the Statistics final exam in which I sat down, stared at page one of a ten page exam that required to build from the first problem. And promptly forgot the first formula that I needed to use on the first problem. Nothing. Nada. Blank slate land. I kid you not.

It was at the Univ. of Arkansas that, after my financial aid went through, the school refunded to me the money my father had paid for tuition. And I promptly purchased a stereo system for my now top floor room with two windows. It was a long trip home to face the music after he wrote that I should use the refunded money to pay toward the next semester. But he invoked the Kitten Amendment—I was his son, not a research project—and I spent the summer shoveling dirt, sand, and wet concrete so other people could have swimming pools in their backyards. In Pittsburgh, with its all of 6-8 week summers. Added to the $60 bucks for my car, I could return for the next semester, still scrubbing toilets and showers and endless dishes. I kid you not…

At the end of my second year in Fayetteville, amid rumors of old pickup driving Sam Walton up the road starting a new concept in cheap merchandising he called WalMart, and having decided to transfer back home to Pittsburgh, I got a six-week, good paying job being a counselor for incoming freshman to the U of A. Two batches a week of kids fresh from high school graduations turned loose on a big college campus. What could go wrong? I could tell them whatever I wanted. I would be back in Pittsburgh when they showed up to start classes in the fall. So, sure, the professors are all brilliant, classes are easy, no need to study, you’ll find the love of your life, alcohol makes everything better, and parents are overrated. Actually, all I remember about them is twice a week sitting on the floor of the lounge while they had a dance, my friend and fellow counselor leading his band, and they always closed out with The Boxer, by Paul Simon. And he always had a hip flask of scotch. And he inherited a stack of magazines when I left. I kid you not…maybe.

Oh, and that statistics exam? My professor invoked the Kitten Amendment and showed mercy. “John, I know that you know this stuff. You had a 98 average before the exam. I’m going to give you a score that still maintains your ‘A’.” I kid you not. Sometimes, you really do have to be there to experience mercy…and to know when to invoke the Kitten Amendment.

Words are magic and writers are wizards.