ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


"Clockwork Orange at Haydn University", a story by Robert Wexelblatt


Two paunchy men stood on the lawn beside the Class of ’73 sign, delighted to have found each other.  Their wives had gone to the benches to sit with other men’s wives.


“Remember the Occupation?”


“Hull Hall?  Of course I do.  It was great, those two nights on the corridor outside the Chancellor’s Office.  Weed and making out.”


“Their old house is gone now.  I checked.  Do you remember when Sigma got tossed off campus?”


“Yep.  ‘Hosting lewd and unnatural acts.’  Wasn’t it something like that?”


“That was the charge all right.  They hung a sheet out the windows.  Remember?” 


“‘Sigma died for your sins.’”


Suddenly, music blasted from the two loudspeakers on the east and west sides of the quadrangle.  It was “Dear Bertolt,” starting with the familiar drum riff from H.T., then the Hogans’ clashing guitars, not one of the band’s big hits, but a favorite with the SDSers, the anti-war radicals, with those who could quote Frantz Fanon, Angela Davis and Kate Millet, the ones who disdained cowboys, extolled Indians, immolated their brassieres and draft cards, sampled the whole pharmacopeia, raised fists, and had deferments.  Then, in the fullness of time, they cooled off, lost hair, put on weight, got jobs, spouses, children, IRAs, high blood pressure, and life insurance.


A few of those in the Quad who were old enough smiled, recalled snatches of the lyrics, and sang along.  More just joined in the refrain with sincere nostalgia, overlaid with embarrassment and self-mockery.

Those invisible lines they’re red
To the Feds we might as well be dead
New Deal’s same as the old Deal
You lie down and we’ll make your bed
Yeah, it’s obvious who lost who won
Yeah Yeah
What’s robbing a bank beside founding one

Bunching together, they waited for the line, then shouted it out like a trained chorus.  They all loved the band, loved themselves for still loving it, or at least the selves who used to love it.

No mortgage for the likes of you, son
A loan, are you being funny
We use bookkeeping you use a gun
Hand over your rainy-day money
For us the whole year is sunny
You’re finished we’re never done
Yeah Yeah
What’s robbing a bank beside founding one

For the University’s First Annual Alumni Weekend, the campus was spruced up with azaleas, ranks of tulips and daffodils, mown lawns, and fresh paint.  The forecast for the last weekend in April called for ideal weather, warm and windless, perfect for the outdoor events.  From noon to two alumni and students strolled the campus where booths offered six varieties of ethnic food, baguettes, pastries, both Texas- and Kansas City-style barbecue, costly wines, cheap beers.  Under the oldest tree on campus, a huge sycamore, there was a booth painted in bright psychedelic swirls selling newly legalized marijuana.  When this daring move was announced at a faculty meeting, one waggish assistant professor whispered to another, “Recreational for the students, medical for the alumni.”


Parents Weekend—for sociological reasons retitled Friends and Family Weekend—had been back in October, built around the familiar ceremonies of falling leaves, a football game, a pops concert, featuring unchallenging faculty talks on topics like “Dragons in Popular Literature and Film,” “Six Ways AI Is Going to Change Your Life,” and “How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football.”  The springtime Alumni Weekend was one of the innovations of the University’s recently installed President, Kevin Yoshimoto, who was so often called “a breath of fresh air” that the phrase might almost have been part of his title. Yoshimoto was just thirty-nine and held doctorates in both chemical engineering and American Studies.  He had published two books, dozens of articles, and had delivered papers at conferences all over the globe.  After reluctantly agreeing to a stint as acting provost at his old university, he found he relished administration more than research, even more than teaching.  His wife liked it too.  It meant less travel and more attention paid to her and their daughter.  It also came with an administrator’s salary.  When Haydn announced that it would be searching for a new president, they agreed he should apply.

Yoshimoto liked being out of the office, being seen around campus.  He would drop by departments and chat with the secretaries, sit in on classes, answer greetings and queries from students.  He favored slim-cut jeans, blue chambray shirts, and old corduroy sport jackets, one black and a brown one with leather elbow patches. 

Yoshimoto had the idea of an Alumni Weekend focused on the rock band Clockwork Orange not just because he was a fan of the classic group.  Over the summer before assuming his post, he read up on Haydn, its policies, distinguished alumni, its trustees, the school’s history.  He discovered the band’s connection to the University in a yellowing copy of the old student paper that had died with the 70s, The Haydn Free Chronicle, known to students of the era as The Freak, and the idea sprang full-grown from his brow.  He envisioned scholarly seminars with papers to be published in a new journal, Clockwork Studies, honorary degrees awarded to the band members, and music performed by a tribute band.  Done right, he figured the Alumni Weekend could be a boost to fund-raising, which he was reminded over and over was any university president’s chief function and top priority.

In 1970, George Slavitsky, Slav, enrolled as a freshman in Haydn University.  He was tight with two fraternal twins from high school, Harry and Billy Hogan.  In tenth grade the brothers had formed a band with Joe Belfiglio, who owned a bass, and Bob Rosenthal, who owned a set of drums.  Belfiglio dropped out when his family moved away and Slav took his place.  They called themselves The Hogans and, the next year, changed their name to The Hooligans.  They played at two high school dances but mostly for themselves in the Slavitsky family garage.  Rosenthal, a barely adequate drummer, was studious and smart.  He got into Yale.  The Hogans were smart but not studious at all.  They didn’t want to go to college as their parents urged them to, though rather half-heartedly.  “At least learn a trade,” pleaded Mr. Hogan.  “We’ve already got one,” Billy retorted with a confident grin.  What the brothers wanted was to be rock stars, to sing like the Everlys and live like the Stones.

Slavitsky signed up for a triple in Haydn’s dorms then invited the Hogans to move in.  Driving Slav’s roommates out was quick and easy.  Now they had a place to practice, a cafeteria to defraud, and a ready-made audience.  But they were shy a drummer.


When Google informed him that there was just a single surviving member of Clockwork Orange, President Yoshimoto was saddened and disappointed, but not deterred.  He summoned his hyper-efficient administrative assistant, Dami Awao, a young woman whose gast, he had learned, could never be flabbered.

“I want you to track down Howard Thurman Washington.  He was the drummer for the 70s rock band Clockwork Orange.”

Dami gave her customary mock salute.  “Aye, aye, sir.”

She was back in under fifteen minutes. “Like the band’s bassist, George B. Slavitsky, Howard Thurman Washington was enrolled here in Haydn.  Unlike Slavitsky, he actually went to classes.  He was on the Dean’s List all six semesters with a 3.9 GPA.  His major was Cultural Anthropology.  Instead of a minor he took a slew of electives—Anglo-Saxon literature to Zoology, you name it.”

Six semesters? Did he finish early?”

Dami looked up from her notes.  “He left at the end of his junior year.”

“Go on.”

“The band and their fans called him H.T.  He was the oldest of the group and, according to four sources, the brains of the outfit.  Also, as you must know, he’s also the only black.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.  Like where he is now.”

“That took a bit of searching.  Seems he’s become a Buddhist monk.  Goes by the name of Hanshan.”  Dami consulted her notepad.  “It means ‘cold mountain.’”

“Can we contact him?  He’s not in Japan, is he?”

Dami consulted her notes.  “Upstate New York.”

“Good.  I think I can get him here.”

“He’s a monk,” Dami said.  “He lives in a monastery.”

“So I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse, a Buddhist one.”

President Yoshimoto began his letter of invitation “Namo Buddhaya,” said he was a devotee of Clockwork Orange, tendered his condolences on the deaths of Slav and the Hogans, wrote that he regretted the unfortunate action of the University in having them removed from campus, and declared that Haydn now wished not merely to acknowledge but to celebrate its connection to the band.  He laid out his plans for a new tradition—an Alumni Weekend—and that the inaugural one would be devoted entirely to Clockwork Orange, including scholarly presentations.

“We also want to grant you the bachelor’s degree toward which you were working so excellently.  In fact, we would like to do better by conferring on you an honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.

“I understand that you may be reluctant to leave the monastery even for a weekend, but I would personally —not just as on behalf of Haydn University— be thrilled and immensely grateful if you would come. We will, of course, provide first-class transportation and meals meeting your requirements.  By the way, my mother was a Buddhist and a good cook.  We will put you up in the best local hotel.

“Please come.  I appeal to you in the words of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama: Old friends pass away, new friends appear.  It is just like the days.  An old day passes, a new day appears.  The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend—or a meaningful day.”

He signed off “Promising you a meaningful day.  Your New Friend, Kevin Yoshimoto, President of Haydn University.”

Eight days later the President received a reply, surprisingly by email.

“Very well, Mr. President.  I’ll come on condition that you put me up in the dorm room shared so briefly by my friends before Haydn called the cops to drag them out.  If McIlhenny’s still standing, it’s Room 411.”  Hanshan signed off by also quoting the Dalai Lama: “I am a simple Buddhist monk—no more, no less.”


Whether the band found H.T. or he found them is a matter of useless speculation.  It’s better to say they found each other one September afternoon on the steps of Hoffman Memorial Library.  Slav and the Hogans were performing before a crowd of students all of whom sported long hair, bell bottoms or ripped jeans, fringed vests or peasant blouses, and peace buttons—the undergraduate uniform of the time.  Howard Thurman Washington stopped to listen.  As if he weren’t already sufficiently conspicuous on campus, he wore a dark suit, like dead Malcolm and dead Martin.  He was one of only a dozen black students at Haydn, a fearsome debater, a study in restrained and channeled anger.  He scared people when he was silent and usually silenced them when he spoke up in class.  He loved, in no particular order, his parents, two sisters, his grandmother, his Aunt Denise, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, British rock, and Max Roach.  At a time when eating a grape or drinking a Coke was a political act, when radicalism was chic and Black Power in vogue, he kept his politics mostly to himself. 

H.T. had a way with words, also with rhythm.  He listened to the band for a spell then sat down on the steps next to Slav, laid his brown briefcase on his lap, and proceeded to give the band what it was lacking. 

The impromptu concert/rehearsal ended, the crowd dispersed, leaving behind a little applause and just short of four dollars in loose change.  H.T. was about to leave when Harry stopped him.

“Hey, man, you want to join the band?”

Before H.T. could reply, a cautious Slav asked, “You ever play real drums?”

H.T. laid his briefcase aside, stood up, and laughed. “Better than you play that bass.”

“You have a set?” asked Billy hopefully.

“Did until I sold it last week so to buy the meal plan.”

Slav and the Hogans laid down their guitars and put their heads together.

“What if we managed to get you a set —used but functional?”

“Well, I suspect you could buy back my old one.  The trust-fund sophomore who bought it’s probably bored with his new toy by now.”

H.T. skipped his next class. He had never cut a class before, but he figured it was okay since he would be missing music theory for music practice.

The Hogans and Slav pooled their money and bought back the drum set for a quarter of what H.T. sold it for.  The rich sophomore’s roommate said he couldn’t thank them enough.


The tribute band, who called themselves Clockwork Apples—perhaps so as not to be compared too critically to the original—was good.  Their performance was one of sincere emulation rather than opportunistic imitation.  They played an hour-long set after lunch in the outdoor Holbein Amphitheater which, kitted out with two large speakers, was ideal.  The alumni loved it, many finding it an antidote to the ponderous scholarship they’d experienced earlier.

The seminars had been scheduled for the morning. Six humorless academics dissected the band’s oeuvre, deploying Gallic post-structural theory, musical hermeneutics, contextualization both historical and biographical, digital and political analytics.  One alum, taking in the crushingly titled “Playing in the Generation Gap: Clockwork Orange’s Oppositional Deconstruction of Positive Post-Adolescent Aristippian Hedonism,” turned to her husband and whispered, “Huge ugly hammer, pretty tiny nail.”

Clockwork Apple led off their concert with the band’s 1972 breakthrough hit, “All-Nighter,” then ran through “Brown Rice,” “Figment of Your Imagination,” and an extended, Grateful-Dead-like version of “Long Trip Through Bea’s Paradise.”  They wrapped up not with something upbeat or raucous but with a moving rendition of “Cowboy Song,” the band’s haunting take on country-and-western, featuring an uncannily faithful rendering of Billy Hogan’s heartbreaking solo. 


I left in the morning
when the whole world looked new.
I closed the door softly
and I didn’t tell you.

I would love to have stayed,
though you won’t believe me.
Guess I thought I’d fail you
or that you’d deceive me.

The highway led nowhere,
except further from you.
The morning didn’t last
and the world wasn’t new.

The college kids seemed a little let down by this melancholy finale, but the alumni smiled knowingly either at each other or to themselves.  One or two wiped away a tear, then all of them stood and cheered.


President Yoshimoto went personally to greet H.T. at the airport on Friday night.  He bowed and addressed him as Hanshan and in the limousine told him what was planned for the next day.

Yoshimoto couldn’t help being taken aback by H.T.’s appearance.  He looked so old; his head was shaved, but he stood upright, lean and dignified.  He did not resemble the monks Yoshimoto had seen when he took his newly widowed mother to visit Kyoto.  This was not just because he had never seen a black Buddhist but because H.T. displayed none of the subdued placidity, courtesy, and modesty he expected of a monk.  The President was disappointed when Hanshan declined to attend Saturday’s concert or any of the seminars but took comfort from his guest of honor’s pledge to come to the banquet on Sunday which would be followed by the formal conferring of his honorary degree.

“And you’ll say a few words?”

“I will.”


Howard Thurman Washington was as good a lyricist as he was a drummer.  “Dear Bertolt” was the first song he wrote for the band.  They liked it at once and even more when he explained the title.  Their first paying gig was at La Bohème, one the college town’s three small clubs.  The new song went over well with the undergraduate radicals and literati.

Being black, better dressed, and far smarter than the others, H.T. was quickly granted the authority of a democratic aristocrat.

One afternoon, after a dull rehearsal in the dorms, Slav said he thought the band needed a new name.  “Something not so, like, Fifties.  More with it.”

Everybody looked to H.T. who, never one to miss a beat, said “Clockwork Orange.”

“Where’d you get that?”

H.T. opened his briefcase and extracted a soiled paperback. “Kismet,” he declared.  “Picked up yesterday outside the library.  Somebody must have dropped it.”  He held the book up for them to see.

“Cover looks like a poster for The Wild One.”

“Oh, it’s better than that.”     

“Better than Brando?”


“Cool name, but it’s a book,” said Harry. “The title’s taken; I mean it’s copyrighted.”

H.T. gave Harry an indulgent look before going into his professorial mode, the one he had used to explain who Bertolt Brecht was and also when he told them about Sherman’s Field Order 15, the Freedman’s Bank, Robert Johnson, John Dowland, and Alban Berg.

“You can’t copyright a title, Harry,” he said.


“You mean I could write War and Peace,” said Slav jokingly, “or Hamlet?”

“Prince of Denmark, in five acts, if you want.”


“That can’t be,” Billy objected.

H.T. sighed.  “The Copyright Act doesn’t explicitly rule out protection of titles; however, the Copyright Office Regulations plus a ton of case law equate titles with slogans.  Slogans can’t be copyrighted.  So, you like Clockwork Orange or not?”

“Well, yeah.”


Billy was unconvinced.  “It’s good, but I don’t want to get sued.”

The next day H.T. brought along a xerox of the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 37 – Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights.

“By the way, band names can’t be copyrighted either.”

Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange was published in 1962.  The movie was released in 1971.  When the band became famous in 1974, the film company filed suit against both them and their recording company for infringement claiming the movie’s title as a protected trademark—like Bubble Wrap and Barbie.  Papers were filed with the federal district and a preliminary hearing scheduled.  The press picked up the story.  Clockwork fans crowded the courtroom on the appointed day and cheered exultantly when Judge Rudolph Giamatti dismissed the case in fifteen minutes flat.


The ballroom was filled with large round tables covered in starched white tablecloths. A waitstaff of work-study students in white shirts, black vests and slacks, stood at ease against the walls, hands clasped behind their backs.  When President Yoshimoto, in full academic regalia, conducted H.T., dressed in his simple orange robe, to the head table, there were puzzled murmurs from the diners who were unaware that Howard Thurman Washington, the great H.T, had become the monk Hanshan.  But, prompted by the standing ovation of those who did know, everybody rose and joined in.

The President seated himself on one side of the honoree and Susanne Shukovski, Director of Alumni Affairs and Development, on the other.  Hers would be the name at the bottom of the solicitation letters, already prepared for mailing in a week. 

Yoshimoto was served the prime rib, rare, Ms. Shukovski the lobster tails.  Hanshan had the dish he had requested, beans, bok choy, and almonds over brown rice.  To Ms. Shukovski’s questions he replied politely but tersely and when she apologized for asking too many, he said, “Don’t apologize.  Ignorance is curable; it’s stupidity that isn’t.” Yoshimoto asked if the food met with his approval.  He nodded and listened indifferently to the President’s account of the first time he had heard Clockwork Orange.  “It was at a party.  I think it must have been in middle school.  It’s your dinner made me think of it.  The song was ‘Brown Rice.’”

After the remains of the meal had been cleared away, President Yoshitomo asked Hanshan to accompany him to the podium.  There was a lectern with Haydn’s motto, Lux et Veritas, in gilded letters on the front and a microphone on top.  The waitstaff withdrew discreetly and the crowd grew quiet.

“Dear alumni and guests, we are so pleased to welcome you to Haydn, mother of many souls.  Our special guest is, as you know, the sole living member of a great and beloved band.  Clockwork Orange got their start right here at Haydn and we are proud to have devoted this weekend to celebrating this enduring group of musicians.  Life takes us all through many changes and our special guest is a distinguished example.  When he enrolled here, he was Howard Thurman Washington, then he became the drummer H.T., and now he is Hanshan who calls himself a simple monk.  As you may not know, he was among the brightest students Haydn has ever had.  He would certainly have been elected to our chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and have graduated with highest honors.  But he left us in his third year.  I imagine becoming a rock star was a good deal more alluring even than graduating summa cum laude.  We are here this evening for the University to make good the lack of his degree.”

Yoshimoto turned to the left and a minion strode quickly to the dais holding a large, framed diploma.  The President took it from him.

“So first, with genuine pride, I hereby present him with this diploma, mark of his much-delayed bachelor’s degree.”  Yoshimoto handed the framed document to Hanshan who, not knowing what to do with the thing, put it on the floor.

“And now, a second degree.  By the power invested in me by —and with the unanimous and enthusiastic approval of— Haydn’s distinguished Board of Trustees, I hereby confer on him the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.”

The President nodded and the minion returned holding a doctoral hood folded across extended arms.  The President took it and moved to lay it over the monk’s bald head, but Hanshan held up his hand.  He took the thing from Yoshimoto and dropped it on top of the diploma.

Concealing his exasperation, the President said, “Hanshan?  Would you now say a few words?” and stepped back from the microphone.

H.T. took his place and looked out over the room for thirty long seconds before speaking.

“Thank you, President Yoshimoto for the degrees and the hospitality.  Thank you, Trustees.  Thank you all.  I know it is not for me you’ve come but Clockwork Orange.  I liked those white boys—Harry, Billy, Slav—liked their foolishness, their joy, their innocent delight in adulation and groupies.  I even liked their sullen moods, fights, and vanity.  They stayed children to the day they died.

“But, as for me, as you see, I have changed.  I became good at renunciation—my anger, then my ambition, women, intimacy, writing, and, finally, the world against which nobody ever wins.  I am grateful and I don’t wish to offend, but I am standing here feeling unsettled, disturbed, and false.  I shouldn’t have come.  It would have been wiser to stay where I was.  Why?  Here is the explanation.  It is a poem by the sixth-century master Chen Hsi-wei, verses I might once have stupidly tried to set to music.

Lake Weishan lies cool and still as a forgotten bowl of tea,
the moon immobile as a yellow disk embroidered
on a gown of black silk heavy with pearls. 
As time is change, so these motionless bamboo leaves,
these reeds standing to attention like proud veterans,
yield a moment without war, decay, turmoil, or age. 

I too am still in this moment, captivated by
the moonlight on the enchanted lake, silver and gold.
The moon’s radiance on the water looks so precious,
I reach out to touch it and so, with my foolish hand,
spoil eternal peace. 
         Alas!  If only I had refrained.”

There was a drawn-out silence, uncertain ripples of applause.  President Yoshimoto stepped forward, seized the monk’s hand and shook it twice, then he gave a deep nod aimed at the back of the room.  The original recording of “All-Nighter,” the band’s ever-popular infectious party song, blew through the ballroom as the black-vested work-study students hurried to push back the tables so the alumni could dance.


Robert Wexelblatt is a professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published twelve collections of short stories; two books of essays; two short novels; three books of poems; stories, essays, and poems in a variety of journals, and a novel awarded the Indie Book Awards first prize for fiction. 

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