Infielder Julio Gotay always played with a cheese sandwich in his pocket. Oriole pitcher Dennis Martinez would drink a small cup of water after each inning and place the cups upside down under the bench in a straight line. Wade Boggs ate chicken before every game during his career. Detroit Tiger pitcher Dennis Grossini washed his hands after every inning in which he gave up a run.

American baseball is rich with rituals. But if believing that each bat contains only 100 hits (Honus Wagner) sounds a little eccentric, Rebecca Harris cautions you to take a closer look at how you get ready for work in the morning.

"We all practice ritual on a daily basis," the Clatsop Community College social sciences professor says. "We just don't even realize it."

Harris, who admits she regularly wore Roman Corinthian column earrings to her archeology tests as an undergraduate, is leading a discussion on rituals, fetishes and taboos for Penny University - a new offering at the college.

Penny University is cross between a class and a book club.

Harris started the university last term, basing it on the European coffee house tradition.

In the early 1700s, there were more than 2,000 coffee houses in London alone. A person could pay a penny on entry then indulge in coffee or tea and the talk of the day. Discussions ranged from politics to people to current events, and greatly influenced the fabric of society. Where a man lived was less important than the coffee house he frequented. These informal, intellectual gatherings were coined Penny Universities.

More Info.Penny University meets 2:30-3:30 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays in Towler 106 at Clatsop Community College. A Thursday session is reserved exclusively for faculty and staff. However, students and community members are welcome on all other days.

Look for a short reading assignment for each meeting outside Towler 106 and on reserve at the library.

"The thought was, you could learn just as much by paying a penny going into the coffee house than going into the university," Harris says.

Harkening back to that tradition, Harris took two weeks over Christmas break to convert a box-filled, mold-filled, junk-filled area of Towler Hall 106 into a coffee and tea bar. She and her husband covered the walls with a light green paint, and scrawled quotes on the walls. They outfitted the area with multiple coffee pots, a small refrigerator and a queen's assortment of teas.

With "A penny for your thoughts" written above the entrance, the college's Penny University was born.

"I have this thing for coffee and obviously like teaching quite a bit," says Harris, who can easily drink 12 cups of java a day. "My husband thinks it's just another excuse to drink more coffee."

But the impetus behind the university is really a desire to talk about topics outside of the normal classroom curriculum, and to create an intellectual discourse for the community.

LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian

Rebecca Harris, who started the discussion group Penny University, engages the group in the conversation."Education is the best way to make connections in the community," Harris said. "I'd like to see it grow into a community event everyone looks forward too."

The eight individuals who showed up for Tuesday's meeting had a lively discussion about their own rituals.

"I remember playing ball and I had a certain bat that I used and nobody else used it," said Billy Harrison, a Clatsop student from Seaside. "'Course I was the biggest kid on the block. But I got some good hits with it."

Now his rituals include getting up by 5:15 a.m., drinking coffee, soaking his face and showering - in that order.

"I don't deviate from that. It's too uncertain out there."

"What happens if you do?" Harris asks.

"I don't."

But Harrison is not alone. Rinda Johansen, also a student, drinks coffee and watches CNN every morning. Her 10-year-old son can only get up at a certain time on his baseball-game days.

In addition to exploring the whys behind rituals, the group meandered into other topics such as ballot Measure 30 and the P.T. Cruiser. Along the way, they found their themes for the next two weeks: terrorism and globalization.

"It's been a good brain exercise to talk with people who have a lot of knowledge," Harrison says. "I usually leave here with more knowledge than I came here with. It's better than TV."

Former student Stu Matulich agreed.

"It builds a sense of community. We get to see with other people think."


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