Ponding 1960s

These recollections, dear reader, styled as “Stein’s UCU,” date to my era at the Mens House, 1963-67. They range widely from people to events to personal thoughts. Some of these border (Border!) on the outrageous, the kind about which one might say “Don’t try this in today’s UCU!” Well, here goes with the first.


Back in the ‘60’s UCU folk needed relief from relentless academic tedium, just as they do today. One such stress reliever was an outdoor sport that doubled as a prank, as the occasion demanded. It was especially popular during the lengthening days of spring when, after six months of cool and rain, the sun appeared now and then, and the evenings were pleasant. A byproduct of this long-awaited warming trend was deep-seated boredom. In the throes of this nearly fatal ailment, the eyes of young men (of the friskier sort) gaze about in search of a comrade who is a suitable target. The pretext might be a brother who had just got engaged, or “pinned” (a ritual that calls for another tale). Or it might be someone who was a little mouthier than the rest, one badly in need of the therapy that only this procedure offered. Most any pretext would suffice. The procedure: “ponding.”

Today ponding is a bad idea. Frosh pond is the world’s largest petri dish, with an astronomical septic count. A vast army of ducks use the pond for a swimming pool and a toilet. (It may be a vile plot by an infamous university 300 miles to the south famous for its bird mascot.) Ponding today could make a fellow thoroughly sick. Back then though the waters were much cleaner: no ducks and only an occasional seagull.

I first witnessed ponding during my freshman year in the dorms before moving into UCU. Hearing a commotion in the hall I looked out my door. Along came four dormies on each corner of a fifth, who happened to be the 6’ 10” back-up center for the Husky basketball team. They were carrying him to the pond. Well, that’s a long way to carry someone so they probably stood him back on his own feet and “ushered” him there before the final ritual at pond side: one big fellow on the feet, another on the hands, and “a one, a two, a three,” and heave ho! On a warm evening later that spring several of us dormies went to the pond voluntarily for a swim. Only then did I discover how hard it is to climb out. No problem if you have a buddy but pretty difficult by yourself to jump and get a purchase on that high rounded wall.

Coming to UCU I discovered that the same practice was observed there as well. Since it’s close to a mile from the House to the pond, practicality requires ushering the victim to his fate. I remember being part of a crowd ministering to a fellow who had just become engaged. I also recall his remark afterwards; his head nearly hit the pool wall during the heave ho.

Of course ponding has thankfully passed out of common use. It has been replaced at UCU by a secret ritual starting with the letter “p” (let’s give it the euphemism “ping pong”), which can be carried out with a great deal more of spontaneity and a great deal less pretext and without the odium of a long trip down campus.

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