It’s a Small World After All

I became a member of Twin Oaks Community, along with my then-wife, Carol, in the summer of 1970. Twin Oaks was founded in 1967 along the principles described in B.F. Skinner’s novel, Walden Two. Walden Two was among the texts used in the “Psych 101: Psychology as a Social Science” course at Michigan, of which Carol taught several sections. Carol had learned about Twin Oaks when one of her Psych 101 students mentioned that he had seen a note about “an actual, real-life Walden Two” on the Union bulletin board. After several visits over the next 18 months, we decided to join the community.

I had just finished my dissertation research at Michigan and could just as easily write the document in Virginia as in Michigan. I asked my advisor if he knew of any university jobs within 50 miles of Louisa County, VA. He discovered that the University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, had a one-year vacancy because the person they had hired as their new chairman could not break free from his current obligations for another year. So I became an “Acting Assistant Professor” in the Department of Psychology at “Mr. Jefferson’s University” for the academic year, 1970-71.

I have never experienced such a profound shift in my life position than the shift that occurred on the ten-hour trip from Ann Arbor to Charlottesville. In Ann Arbor I was a lowly grad student. I had to pack up my books and materials, carry all the boxes to the loading dock, and pack the U-Haul all by myself. My fellow grad students generously considered my political leanings to be tepidly liberal. (This was the University of Michigan in 1970, after all.) But when I arrived in Charlottesville, suddenly I was Faculty! The acting chairperson grabbed a couple of grad students and they unloaded the truck and carried the boxes to my new office! But most remarkably, I was no longer a tepid liberal: I had suddenly become the most radical leftist in UVA’s Psych Department.

Life at Twin Oaks in 1970 was primitive; some would say penurious. When the Christmas holidays arrived, Carol and I decided to visit her mother in Albany, NY. Not having any money, we decided to hitchhike. The Interstate Highway system was still under construction in those days, but covered much of our route. Even then, hitchhiking was forbidden on the Interstates. Nonetheless, we began our journey with only a few trepidations, bumming a ride from the Community to the Shannon Hill interchange on I64 toward Richmond, where we would pick up I95 North.

Shortly after we stuck our thumbs out, a young guy stopped and offered us a ride as far as the junction with I95. After a few minutes of conversation about where we were coming from and where we were going, the driver asked me, somewhat casually, “Do you ever get into Charlottesville?”

“Why, yes, I do, from time to time,” I replied, equally casually.

A minute or so passed in silence, then he asked, “Do you ever spend any time on campus?”

“Yeah, I get there fairly often,” I said.

Another long pause, then, “Have you ever been in the Psych building?”

“Actually, I do…a couple of times a week,” I answered.

He looked at me intently and asked, somewhat incredulously, “Are you my Psych professor?”

“Well, if you’re in Intro Psych, I guess I am.”

“I thought you looked familiar,” he finally said, and turned his attention back to driving.

Carol and I made it to Albany the next evening, after an uncountable number of rides, only to be let out on a NY Turnpike exit in two feet of snow along the side of the road. We were not well prepared for a New York winter, but made it to a phone and Carol’s mom picked us up a little while later. We took a bus back to Richmond, the tickets being a Christmas gift from Carol’s mother, and were picked up by one of the community members who worked in Richmond.

I resumed my regular schedule of driving to Charlottesville, stopping by the UVA campus, hanging out in the Psych building, and teaching Intro Psych. But a new semester had begun and the guy who gave us our first ride never dropped by to say hello.

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About Jesse

My name is Jesse Blatt. My first name is actually “Ramon,” but I haven’t used that name, except for official purposes, since 1970. I have a high school diploma and a PhD…nothing in between. I’ll get around to explaining that in a post sometime. From time to time I will be posting true stories from my past, though not in any special order. I’ve been fortunate to have had a dozen or so different careers, most of them very satisfying, some fairly frustrating, and none that I wish had never happened. In my many former lives, I have been a mail clerk, radio and TV engineer, radio announcer, electronics engineer, college instructor, psychologist, research consultant, Federal employee, supervisor of research professionals, computer programmer, web designer, instructional designer, construction site handyman, and carpenter, not necessarily in that order.
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