Tag Archives: Mary Washington College

The birches and oaks that enclose the amphitheater keep their secrets … of private thoughts, late-night trysts, promises spoken.

The above is excerpted from an engaging article in the Summer 2014 University of Mary Washington Magazine about the planned restoration of the fabled amphitheater — with which I am just thrilled, as it holds some of my favorite college memories.  

And the article even quoted me, which I thought was quite flattering — I played Fletcher McGee in a 1990 Theater Workshop production of Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology.”  I still remember running around that stage after class, trying desperately (and often in vain) to remember my lines, and snacking on chicken sandwiches and fishburgers form Seacobeck Dining Hall.

Check out page 24 of the magazine, linked below, for details about the project, which has been spurred on by a $1 million gift from Robert S. and Alice Andrews Jepson.  The project sounds like it will create a great space — a modernized amphitheater that will seat 600, but with all of the classical architectural features with which it was originally built in the early 1950’s.  I can’t wait to see it when it is finished, and it would be great fun to round up a few alumni to attend a student production there.


“It was the best of times, it was … the best of times.”

In honor of the Mary Washington College Class of 1994 Reunion, which I am regrettably unable to attend, I am sharing this photo of a … slightly younger me.  As you can see (far left), I was sublimely well adjusted at the age of 20, despite the fact that apparently 40 percent of my body weight resulted from my ears and hair.

The happy gang pictured is actually The Tunnel Crowd — yes, they graduated before 94, but I currently don’t have any other MWC pics scanned in.  Pictured beside me, from left to right, are Chris Orange, Dave Whitaker, Steve Miller in his Lennontastic shades, Paul Dilick, and another affable young man whose name escapes me now.

And pictured here is actually a key educational moment, because this may have been the party where I was first really introduced to The Beatles’ “White Album.”

“You say you want a revolution?  Well, you know … we all want to change the world.”

Much love, guys.  Thanks for long ago friendships, and great memories that the decades have failed to fade.








I can get arrested in Arizona now …

,.. because my old buddy Nate will help me beat the rap.

Congratulations to Mary Washington College alumnus Nate Wade for successfully winning his first case as Pima County Public Defender.  You make the Class of 1994 proud.

In my mind, he will now forever be Matt Murdock — even though he probably doesn’t know who that is, because he has a healthy adult mindset instead of a closet full of comic books.

In my happiness for Nate’s success, I will forgive him for attacking me with shaving cream in the basement floor of Bushnell Hall in 1990.  He thought it was *I* who locked him in the suite bathroom.  (It was actually Will Shelbourne.)

I’ll also forgive him and his hifalutin lawyer friends for failing to fully appreciate the brilliance of my various “Perry Nateson” puns on Facebook.

Keep sticking up for the little guy, Nate!!




12 Nolans.

From a college friend about my short stories:

 “You can’t refer to things in the past that you have not wrote yet and or will have to back track and write them.”

Okay, man — thanks … wait … what?!

Sounds like homeboy got drunk and watched Terry Gilliam’s “12 Monkeys” again.  (We’ve all been there, right?)


Ornstein, Ornstein, everywhere. (An Unexpected Upload Crisis Update.)

I am a cutting edge journalist.  Okay, I WAS a cutting edge journalist.

Sigh … okay.  I was that weird New Yorker guy who somehow landed a job at a daily newspaper at a small Virginia town. Because God has a sense of humor, and also apparently wants the Civil War to start again.

Police beat?!  Seriously?  Who thought it was a good idea to put ME in a room full of cops and ask me to advocate for the truth?

My nickname around the newsroom was “Butch,” and I was thrilled at how tough that sounded, because my 22-year-old mind had not wrapped itself around the concept of “irony” just yet.

Anyway, the point I am working up to is this — as my old colleagues at the Culpeper Star-Exponent will hopefully attest, from time to time I actually did get it right.  And today, because I have my figurative skinny white nerd finger ON THE PULSE OF THE ENTIRE INTERNET, I broke a big story.

I am talking about The Unexpected Upload Crisis —  strangers uploading yearbook pictures to the Internet, so that a simple Google Image Search show YOU, in all your gangly glory, as you were 20 years ago.  Don’t tell me this isn’t hot story, because that blog post got a record number of hits.  And I’m also tired of you people tearing down my various elaborately constructed delusional frameworks.  (I’m looking at everyone on Facebook who tells me that I will never date Elizabeth Mitchell.)

So here’s the update (and the “human interest” angle we are pursuing with this story is Mary Washington College graduate Len Ornstein, now a schoolteacher in Arizona).  Len’s students have somewhat hilariously found his idealistic young face online, because the 1994 MWC yearbook has made it into cyberspace, and they’ve made a bona fide avocation out of teasing him. Pictured below are copies of his yearbook photo, lovingly copied and pasted everywhere around his classroom as a surprise one morning.  They even managed to hang it from the ceiling — I thought that was a nice touch.

If you are an alumnus of the Class of 1994, you know that there are far funnier aspects of Len’s college experience than is evidenced by his smiling countenance.  I am referring to a certain Junior Ring Week prank that was perpetrated upon him … I have no doubt that his students would find the tale entertaining.

But you know what?  I’ll stop there.  If Len’s kids are in the habit of Googling him, then they just might turn up this blog post, and I figured I would spare him the ignominy.

Besides, nobody’s made me an offer yet.







A … curious new trend on the Internet has been brought to my attention by Len Ornstein, and has been the source of some bemusement for a few Mary Washington College alumnae.  Evidently, people are scanning and uploading yearbooks to the net?  As I understand it, this is being done not by graduates or those depicted, but … just by random people who enjoy uploading yearbooks?

This strikes me as a totally random and bizarrely specific technology-related hobby.  Then I remember arguing in the imdb.com chatrooms with 15-year-olds in Britain about the cultural implications of Wesley Snipes’ “Blade.”  (The implications are more divisive than you might expect.  That Brit Kid called me a “bellend.”  Then everyone laughed at me on Facebook when I posted to ask what the term meant.)

At any rate, allow this to fuel your paranoia, as it has mine.  Photos of you that were taken 20 years ago are now available via keyword search.  Len, a schoolteacher in Arizona, had his mug brought to his attention by his students.

And if you suffer from the same apparent mutation that I do, pay attention to your mysteriously expanding head.

Exhibit A:  Look at the first picture below, which is a page from the 1994 (?) Mary Washington College yearbook.  Look at me in the top left corner. (Yes, I majored in psychology, and, no, the irony is not lost on me.)  My head is small — and I mean TINY.  I don’t think that this was a trick photography gag employed by the yearbook club, because Photoshop kind of wasn’t a thing yet.  (My passing resemblance to Danger Mouse here is also a separate matter entirely.)

Exhibit B:  Look at the second picture below, which was taken quite recently.  My forehead is HUGE.  I don’t have a receding hairline.  I DON’T.  But yet I cannot explain why my forehead appears to be growing at a geometric rate.  Seriously, look at it.  I should rent out space on that thing.  It would go a long way toward supporting my poetry.  This might be why Pete Buccellato (also the Class of 1994) has opined repeatedly that I look like “Guy Smiley” from Sesame Street.

I know that one of Green Lantern’s nemeses (Herman something …?) has a giant mutated cranium, but that developed with super-intelligence and telepathic abilities, neither of which I’ve seen evidence of in my life just yet.  I keep telling myself that Morrisey also has a large forehead, and I’m pretty sure he gets all the girls, even if he blew it that time with Tori Amos.

Whatever.  You can take your mind off your troubles by noting the affable face of a one Mr. Mike Merritt at the bottom right, with whom I am thankfully still friends.  That smile informs us once again that he was a sublimely well adjusted kid.  It was great knowing Mike back at school.  I still remember encountering him on Campus Walk around The Fountain after partying in New Hall.  If I was a bit deep in my cups, I would accost him with my endlessly repeated pun for his name: “Merritt Baaaaaaaaaadge!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”   The law of diminishing returns apparently worked backward in my 20-year-old mind, because the joke just got funnier every time I hollered it.

In fact, if you are an alum in Virginia and you have occasion to see Mike, would you please yell it at him for me?  That’d be just great.




On midlife crises, college roommates, and International Star Wars Day.

Pictured here is my sophomore year college roommate, Dave, celebrating International Star Wars Day.  Perched on his back, quite capably instructing him in the ways of The Force, is his son, Dashiell.  I am not sure why Dave also appears to be carrying a small Easter basket, though I might just return to Catholicism again if it were made known that Jedi hid the Easter eggs.

The photo arouses insecurity in me because *I* wanna be the sci-fi movie geek in this town (“this town” being the entire Internet — I’m prone to delusions of grandeur).  And now I find out that my old roommie Dave has way better sci-fi flick fan street cred than I do.  So I have a whole new mid-life crisis to contend with.

I actually HAVE done cosplay, after a fashion.  For years, I purchased my suits for work based on what members of The Syndicate wore in “The X-Files.”   Nobody picked up on how awesome I was being.  To enhance the effect and better represent Mulder’s nemeses, I spoke vaguely and elliptically to every question asked of me at the office, to conceal a nefarious underlying motive.  No one appreciated the flourish, because, let’s face it, I pretty much do that most the time anyway.

Oh, well.  I wish Dave well in his fandom, even if I resent the way he’s outshined me here.  One, he was a sublimely nice guy in college, and his good nature was an effective counterpoint for my budding sociopathy.  He was also a smart fella.  After my mother gave me a small used bookcase for academic purposes, it was Dave who suggested that we turn it sideways against the wall to turn it into a bar.  Jedi, indeed.

Two, I am also not quite as into Star Wars as many of my friends are.  When I roomed with Dave at the age of 19 at Mary Washington College, I was neck deep in an obsession with “2001: A Space Odyssey” — both Arthur C. Clarke’s novel and Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation.  Of course I annoyed my moral better by endlessly quoting the movie at him.  (His name, after all, is DAVE.)

“Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?  Dave, stop.  Stop, Dave, won’t you?  WHY DON’T YOU TAKE A STRESS PILL AND RELAX.”

The harassment finally ended when Dave stopped one day, and gave me a long, hard look, suggesting the ass-kicking I never got but probably deserved since a week after classes started.  He told me, “You are TOO into that movie.”

Oh, well.  Happy Star Wars Day, everyone.  And Dave?  You are NOT too into that movie.  You rock.





“She drained me like a fevered moon.”

Celebrate National Poetry Month — here is “Fletcher McGee,” from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology.”

Below it are two photos of Mary Washington College’s outdoor amphitheater.  (Alum Janet Walbroehl Winston took the photos; Russell Morgan is pictured.)  Many, many moons ago, I was cast in an outdoor production of “Spoon River” as a Freshman.  “Fletcher McGee” was one of the roles I portrayed.  I was not Laurence Olivier.  After our first performance, one classmate advised me, “Stop overacting.”  You kinda don’t get much more candid than that, or concise.

Oh, well.  I still had fun.  I have wonderful memories of early Autumn evenings, eating cafeteria cheeseburgers and fish sandwiches, wearing vintage costumes and rehearsing lines with the other 19-year-old kids.  And that amphitheater was a beautiful place among those tall, overarching Fall trees, even if it was in a state of disrepair even then.

After I die, if I wind up speaking like the ghosts in Masters’ “Spoon River,” maybe that’ll be the place I will choose to haunt.

“Fletcher McGee”

She took my strength by minutes,
She took my life by hours,
She drained me like a fevered moon
That saps the spinning world.
The days went by like shadows,
The minutes wheeled like stars.
She took the pity from my heart,
And made it into smiles.
She was a hunk of sculptor's clay,
My secret thoughts were fingers:
They flew behind her pensive brow
And lined it deep with pain.
They set the lips, and sagged the cheeks,
And drooped the eye with sorrow.
My soul had entered in the clay,
Fighting like seven devils.
It was not mine, it was not hers;
She held it, but its struggles
Modeled a face she hated,
And a face I feared to see.
I beat the windows, shook the bolts.
I hid me in a corner
And then she died and haunted me,
And hunted me for life.



Dirty Dishes and Memory Lane

My big brother and Mary Washington College Alum, Russel Morgan, visited campus recently and took some terrific photos  — MWC has changed a LOT since 1994, but there are still many places I recognize.

The first picture is of the dining hall where I worked as a student employee — horsing around with the other kids, constantly drinking coffee and that sweet red “bug juice” punch, and adopting cookies, cheeseburgers and tater tots as staple foods.  It is also where I worked countless hours on “Dishline,” the assembly-line-like workspace where I and the other kids cleaned all the dishes that were returned.  Wow.  That was a lot of wet work.  I believe that I still smell of ketchup to this day.  I indeed capitalize “Dishline,” as it is both famous and infamous, and figured largely in the formative years of many past students.  If you attended Mary Wash and you know what being “on carts” was, then you are a “Seacobeck Alum.”

Also pictured, in the second photo, are New Hall and Alvey Hall.  (I’m certain new Hall must have been dubbed with a donor’s name in the intervening years since I graduated.)  The men and women I lived among here are among the finest I’ve ever met.  To quote the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode, “I Accuse My Parents,”  “I threw some kickass parties here.”

In the third photo are Mason and Randolph Halls.  My college girlfriend (and possibly the sweetest person I’ve ever met), Kim Haun, lived in Mason.  That low-lying structure linking the two was a literal tunnel, where dorm rooms existed at the time.  (We quite creatively nicknamed it “The Tunnel.”)  Here is where I partied as a Freshman with Steve Miller.  (No, not the musician, Steve Miller — but the irony here is that my pal Steve was a huge fan of the eponymous star and played all of his albums while we sipped rum and cokes on the weekends.)  My college experience would never have been the same if Steve and his upperclassmen friends hadn’t taken me under their wing.

[EDIT — It was actually MWC Janet Walbroehl Winston who took these photos!! Russ, you scene-stealer!!!]


Seacobeck Dining Hall.


New Hall and Alvey Hall.


Mason and Randolph Halls, with”The Tunnel” in the middle.



Ball Hall.

“From the Journals of the Journals of the Frog Prince,” by Susan Mitchell

Celebrate National Poetry Month — this piece, hands down, is my favorite poem that I read in my classes at Mary Washington College.  I love it to this day.

Thanks to Inward Bound Poetry for the text.


“From the Journals of the Frog Prince”

In March I dreamed of mud,
sheets of mud over the ballroom chairs and table,
rainbow slicks of mud under the throne.
In April I saw mud of clouds and mud of sun.
Now in May I find excuses to linger in the kitchen
for wafts of silt and ale,
cinnamon and river bottom,
tender scallion and sour underlog.

At night I cannot sleep.
I am listening for the dribble of mud
climbing the stairs to our bedroom
as if a child in a wet bathing suit ran
up them in the dark.

Last night I said, “Face it, you’re bored
How many times can you live over
with the same excitement
that moment when the princess leans
into the well, her face a petal
falling to the surface of the water
as you rise like a bubble to her lips,
the golden ball bursting from your mouth?”
Remember how she hurled you against the wall,
your body cracking open,
skin shriveling to the bone,
the green pod of your heart splitting in two,
and her face imprinted with every moment
of your transformation?

I no longer tremble.

Night after night I lie beside her.
“Why is your forehead so cool and damp?” she asks.
Her breasts are soft and dry as flour.
The hand that brushes my head is feverish.
At her touch I long for wet leaves,
the slap of water against rocks.

“What are you thinking of?” she asks.
How can I tell her
I am thinking of the green skin
shoved like wet pants behind the Directoire desk? 
Or tell her I am mortgaged to the hilt
of my sword, to the leek-green tip of my soul?
Someday I will drag her by her hair
to the river—and what? Drown her?
Show her the green flame of my self rising at her feet?
But there’s no more violence in her
than in a fence or a gate.

“What are you thinking of? she whispers.
I am staring into the garden.
I am watching the moon
wind its trail of golden slime around the oak,
over the stone basin of the fountain.
How can I tell her
I am thinking that transformations are not forever?