When I arrived at Marquette University in 1984, there were TV lounges on every floor of McCormick Hall, the cylindrical, high-rise, all-male freshman dorm that resembled—in shape, smell and construction materials—a 16-ounce beer can. But the TV lounges were bereft of TVs. This owed, we were told, to a single night seven years earlier when Al McGuire led Marquette to the national basketball championship in Atlanta. Residents of McCormick, in downtown Milwaukee, celebrated by throwing their TVs out the windows. It must have been a beautiful tableau, and one that Led Zeppelin would have envied: the sky black with falling TVs, a Biblical rain of Zeniths.
But I was born late, and by 1984 Marquette was becoming a basketball Mojave. My Warriors were coached by a nervous, overweight man in funereal coat-and-tie who could be seen late at night solitarily sword-swallowing submarine sandwiches, in a nimbus of fluorescent lighting, at Cousin's on Wisconsin Avenue. He looked like a fugitive from an Edward Hopper painting, and after my sophomore year the university—perhaps fearing for his health—released him from his contract. "That's when he became his own Damon Runyon character," McGuire would say years later. "Wearing a tie [only] at weddings and funerals. He got his own identity. He became Rick Majerus."
This was 1986, the same year that another heavyset man partial to ill-fitting jackets left Marquette, via graduation: an aspiring actor named Chris Farley.
Marquette replaced Majerus with the hottest young coach in the nation, a piano-playing stick figure from St. Peter's named Bob Dukiet, whose 39-46 record with the Warriors got him fired after three seasons. He, too, would blossom outside Milwaukee. Phil Mushnick of the New York Post last week tracked Dukiet, 55, to Boynton Beach, Fla., where he is now a tuxedo-wearing pianist playing gigs at senior-citizen homes. "These days I'm Piano Bob of Palm Beach County," he said.
After graduation in 1988, 1 fell out of touch with Marquette, though Marquette, I'd discover, was hardly through with me. I moved to New York City, where I frequently saw Farley—in Zubaz and Chuck Taylors—taking communion at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Sunday mornings after his manic performances on Saturday Night Live.
In 1991, while reading the newspaper, I was surprised to learn that one of my former neighbors in Milwaukee—he lived five blocks from my off-campus apartment—had been a serial-killing cannibal. The New York Times, on its front page, identified Jeffrey Dahmer's neighborhood as "once popular as inexpensive housing for Marquette University students." Marquette enrollment, it is perhaps unnecessary to point out, soon went into steep decline.
Nor did it help that in 1993 the school—in a parody of political correctness—decided to change its teams' nickname from the proud Warriors; the next year they became the milquetoast Golden Eagles. Though I don't know, to this day, a single classmate who has acknowledged the change, it did nominally rob the program of some poetry, of the "seashells and balloons" that McGuire, in his Joycean way, was always speaking about.
"Seashells and balloons is bare feet and wet grass," he once said. "It means a light breeze. You know, a light breeze that would maybe move a girl's skirt a little. It's sweater weather. A malted, you know. A shake. The gentleness of it. The whole-someness of it. It's tender. That type of thing."
In 1997 the gentle giant Farley died of a drug overdose. A year later Rick Majerus—by this time a beloved, hilarious, sweater-wearing colossus—took Utah to the Final Four.
It may have been nothing more than nostalgia, but sometime in the second half of the '90s I was seized by a renewed interest in Marquette basketball. I acquired a Marquette letter opener, a Marquette wristwatch and a Marquette rocking chair with my name wood-burned into the backrest. It became my desk chair. I sit in it for hours each day.