The Grizzly’s Forebears: Caffeine pills and togas

“You know the chicken in Wismer is almost never cooked through, right?” I would confidently bet you that every student who learns, lives, and eats at Ursinus has heard this tidbit of folklore at least once this year. Yes, it’s definitely somewhat of an exaggeration. I’m pleased to report that I’ve actually spoken to a number of students who stand in defense of the dramatically powerful, near-revolutionary opinion that “they’ve sort of gotten better at it.”

Knowing the niche sense of humor that this college possesses, however, there will always be jokes aplenty. I think I’m entitled to joke about it. I’m a college-educated adult. I have a job. I pay taxes. I do my laundry every week. I willingly sold my soul to Brock in exchange for the forbidden wisdom of higher academia. And yet, at the end of the day, even with all of that taken into account, it seems as though a homie still cannot get himself a cooked chicken breast. It’s 2018, man. We live in a society. We have the technology to cook chicken. We’ve had it since the dawn of human civilization.

I digress. Maybe it’s because Wismer has just become too complex of an operation. You would think that 40 years ago, cooking in Wismer was simple and straightforward and that the chicken must have rocked. However, a quick flip through old issues of “The Grizzly” shows shows that 40 years ago, in fall of 1978, Karen Sheldon, “The Grizzly’s” resident cartoonist, published a cartoon about how the chicken in Wismer was almost never cooked. 

Ms. Sheldon was a rather accomplished and admirable “multipurpose English major,” just like a number of Ursinus students are today. When not caught up in the strenuous academic demands and obligations of senior year, she drew a fine collection of cartoons for “The Grizzly” and wrote an assortment of poetry for “The Lantern.” Her artistic prowess and her attitude of commitment to quality journalism led to the creation of a weekly, single-panel cartoon about the 1978-79 Ursinus College student experience, affectionately titled “WHAT PRESSURE???” Headed in all caps, styled in wacky bold font, and topped off with a whopping three question marks for added dramatic effect, not only was it an eminent success as a weekly newspaper feature, but it was quickly elevated to the status of “iconic” in the eyes of the students.

One of Ms. Sheldon’s most valuable caricatural masterpieces is a distinctively flattering sketch of an inebriated, toga-clad frat member who exists as a living Animal House reference. Another highlight is a still-life portrait of a distressingly exhausted student crumpled at the base of their typewriter-occupied desk, surrounded by a landfill of scrapped papers, an empty bottle of caffeine pills and a narrative illustration of a student’s Christmas wish list, in which the hopeful recipient has requested 25 pounds of coffee, a sizeable shipment of caffeine pills, a heaping of painkillers, a boatload of spare erasers, and an English dictionary.

Although the comics were intentionally stylized and drawn as exaggerated caricatures, the inspiration for each publication was nothing more than what real life was like as a stressed-out college student.The cartoons have been able to serve as a time capsule of otherwise inaccessible tales through a whole half-century. Only through these comics have I been able to learn what  made fall ‘78 what it was: the distressing overabundance of caffeine pills, the eccentric identities and charisma of greek life organizations, the ever-booming atmosphere of zealous support for the Bears in each and every sport, and the sheer amplitude of stress and anxiety which coursed through the cramped and computerless hands of each and every student with a procrastinated-upon essay due at sunrise.

I like to think that I possess something similar to Ms. Sheldon’s inclination to remain aware and conscious of the Ursinus quirks that make up the college’s student experience. I know that it’s been common practice for the residents of BPS, both this year and last, to play Fortnite with their doors propped wide open, so that they can impress their hallmates with a Victory Royale. I’m seeing an upward trend in young adults wanting to learn more about spirituality and Wicca. Instead of scarfing caffeine pills like M&Ms, as the cool kids supposedly did half a century ago, the new standard is to have a meme-arsenal of mediocre dance moves and to drain three Juul pods before breakfast. My classmates and colleagues are somehow able to function even though their anxiety levels are rising and falling in direct correlation to their ambitions and goals.

The creative process behind composing material that is genuinely amusing to people demands empathy, curiosity, and honesty. I spend a lot of time trying to seek those qualities out in whatever’s in front of me. It’s especially reassuring to have discovered such an abundance of inspiration and hilarity in the forebears of today’s “Grizzly,” which I previously considered to be a very unlikely place.