You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy™
Taking your kid to college.
All week I’ve been staring at small piles of stuff on the floor, scattered about the house.
T shirts next to the couch. A new lamp on the counter. Towels and sheets in the bedroom.
“When are we packing?,” I ask repeatedly.
The snarky 18 year old rolls his eyes. “I’ll get to it.”
“I gotta know if everything will fit in the back of the Subaru?”
“It’ll fit,” he says as if I don’t know anything about moving my 3rd kid to college.
After a month of asking the Snark if he needs help. I decide it’s easier not give a damn. If baby Einstein thinks he has it covered, then no need for me to worry about it. Bring on the empty nest I say.
I think back to my transition to adulthood. It was 1981. Central Los Angeles.
I went to USC and never even visited the college before committing.
There was no internet, no simple way to check out the campus. All I had was a glossy brochure with a palm tree, a football and a song girl on the cover. “Where do I sign?”
And when it was time to move? Nobody helped move me in. I threw my stuff into the back of my buddy’s pick up truck and my dad waved goodbye from the steps.
“Adios,” he may have screamed with secret delight as the moving violation known as son #1 left the nest.
And then my friend dumped me at the curb of Trojan Hall, quite possibly the oldest dorm in the history of matriculation.
Suddenly there was a sense of reality.
You’re not in Kansas anymore TOTO.
I felt an overwhelming sense of “Oh Shit!”
My buddy dumped me at the corner of Exposition and Figueroa Street in the middle of a socio-economic blight that I would quickly come to call home. It was LAPD choppers lighting up the night sky. It was gunfire crackling in the distance. It was busses churning up smog on hot sweaty streets that lead nowhere good.
The year was 1981. MTV still played videos and mullets were actually acceptable. It was a time before the OJ Bronco Chase, before Kim Kardashian’s ass or the internet.
TROJAN HALL was a stand alone brick bunker on the front line of crime, smog, and the Harbor Freeway. There were no WalMarts on campus. There was no Amazon that flew you a warm bottle of milk to your dorm room by drone like these mamby pamby kids have today.
I shake the 1981 memories from my exasperated brain.
It’s now 2017. I’m an old man and the Snark is heading off to college.
He thinks he is the brains of this operation. Me? I’m just the sagacious old dad with the checkbook.
“You ready to go?,” I say, seeing he has managed to get all his piles of crap into the back of the Subaru.
“Yep,” he replies like an old man with an inflamed prostate.
The car is piled with clothes in plastic bags and lamps in crates and an X box ready to roll.
Snark looks at me, his hair is wet from the shower he has just taken.
“You ready for this journey college boy?”
I’m hoping for something profound.
Instead, I get; “Yep.”
I stare at my progeny and wonder if mono-syllabic responses are the end result of a generation that talks to one another through a key board.
As we head out the door, I stare at the laundry room. The door is open.
“Did you get everything out of the Dryer?”
The snarky 18 year old looks at me with a dyspeptic stare.
His laconic tone sets the mood for what will be a 4 hour drive to East Tennessee.
The trip down I-40 is uneventful filled with satellite radio and the Tom Petty channel.
The boy snoozes in the back seat, not a care in the world, while I navigate past truckers and dumb asses headed West toward the solar eclipse.
We pull into town and get in a long line of cars slowly puttering up a steep hill toward the freshman dorm.
The red bricks of the building are faded. The edifice is 10 stories high, looking more like a place children in the 50’s were told to go huddle during nuclear blast drills.
Smiley faced humans with bright orange shirts meet us at the curb.
I roll down the window, as the heat of the afternoon invades my personal space.
“Good morning. Welcome to Carrick Hall.”
“Yes sir. We’re moving in today,” I say.
“OK, park there,” he points to the curb. “And unload all of your belongings, and then go park your car.”
I stare at the smiley faced man. The plan seems lacking. Unload your stuff and park your car?
For a moment, I ponder pushing everything onto the street and just driving away.
Take that you Snarky bastard!
“OK,” I say tepidly, as I pull to the curb.
We begin piling our items on the grass. Plastic bags of clothes and a comforter and an X box.
“Is this all of it?,” I ask.
For one month, I’ve been telling Snark to go to Target and get whatever he needs. Go get a lamp, go get a blanket, go get a mattress cover, I told him over and over. Every day I would ask, did you go and get what you need? Every day he’d say. “not yet.”
And suddenly, there are no more ticks, and no more tocks.
Suddenly we are on the front lawn of a decrepit high rise full of nervous freshman moving away for the first time in their lives.
His pile of crap is his pile of crap.
I decide I don’t care, and park the car.
On the way back up a steep hill, I realize this campus is bigger than I thought. It is steep and wherever campus begins and the neighborhood ends is not readily apparent to me.
There is a WalMart, but it is not close. Suddenly Snark’s constant refrain; “If I need something, I’ll buy it,” seems less palatable to me.
“You are going to need a bike,” I insist for months.
“No I won’t,” he says repeatedly.
I laugh. “He’s gonna ask me for a bike,” I mutter to myself.
I pass the KA house a few blocks below North Carrick Hall. This house is synonymous with the South, and the Civil War. At USC, once a year, the KA house seceded from the rest of Fraternity Row. It is symbolic of the south seceding from the Union prior to the Civil War. I wonder if they still do that now in a time where everything is judged through a lens of political correctness.
The brothers are gathered on the front steps near their cannon. Many of the young men are drinking from red solo cups and watching the flock of incoming freshman, wide eyed and nervous.
I think back to my days at Delta Chi. I was a savage. The Movie Animal house my bible.
I roof tested TV’s and strung furniture across the façade of the building using nothing more than some clothes hangers and a garden hose.
I chopped apart a pool table with a fire ax and set it ablaze to lure co-eds to the house.
I dumped a trash can full of refuse on my fraternity president and his dates. They were dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns and they were having cocktails before a gala.
I was an urban terrorist. I remember making homemade napalm in the frat kitchen, a recipe I found in a paperback called the Anarchist’s Cookbook.
I was stupid personified in a world before iphones and Twitter.
As I walked up the steep driveway of the dorm, I thought about the countless memories from my four years in South Central.
Still some of the greatest four years of my life!
I hope Snark appreciates the voyage he is about to embark upon.
I stare at the freshman monolith before me.
Carrick Hall, I will come to learn, is named after the 1st UT president, who died in 1809.
I’m told that North Carrick is the northern wing of the largest residence hall in the complex and houses 494 men. This style of traditional suite-style rooms have two double-occupancy rooms with a semi-private bathroom.
That sounds good, but the design is nothing if not bizarre.
“You ready?” I say, as we carry his trash bags of life toward the building.
“There’s only 2 elevators,” I say staring at a line of sweating parents waiting to ride up.
“9 flights of stairs?”
And with that, we grab everything we can hold and enter the stairwell. I hear echoes of tired souls stomping up steps, levels above me. The stairwell is hot and the stairs steep.
Step step step step step step step step, landing, turn. step step step step step. landing turn.
I stop for a moment and look up. I can see the end of my life through the tiny visasge of metal hand rails and concrete stairs.
Once again I have a flash back to 1st days on campus as I carried my life into my new dorm.
Only 3 stories high, Trojan Hall was certainly a test of survival of the fittest. It was a pre-33 building in Central L.A. That means it was not Earth Quake proof and would eventually need to be retrofitted with a labyrinth of re-bar to stabilize it in case of the big one. But if the big one did happen, forget about it. They’d never find you under a billion bricks of death and asbestos.
This building had no elevators, and no air conditioning. It was a prison cell with two iron bunk beds. It was a neon light stuck to the ceiling that kept away an army of cock roaches that scurried behind the walls. There was one communal shower and bathroom down the hallway.
In Trojan Hall you quickly learned what your roommates bathroom habits looked like, smelled like, and sounded like.
This was the U.S. army with a higher tuition.
I remember walking into Trojan Hall and meeting my new roommate for the 1st time.
Today’s youth don’t have to guess what their new roommate will be like.
The internet allows them to go on line and pick who they want like it’s a fantasy football draft.
I want a roommate with a 3.5 gpa who likes sports and girls. Check box.
Kids today don’t have to guess. kids today face-time each other months in advance. By the time they move in, they know what color shower curtain each other prefers.
Back in 1981 it was let’s make a deal.
It was Monte Hall standing in front of your door making you a deal.
“And now, behind door number one, your new roommate”
You didn’t know if you were getting a brand new car or a whoopee cushion.
I remember opening the door of the 3rd floor jail cell on my freshman experience and there he was, in bed with a girl. “Hey roomie,” he shouted with a big smile. His female companion pulled the blanket up to her chin.
It was only day 2 of move in. How the hell did this kid from Pittsburgh already have a girlfriend here?
I had yet to figure out where the dining hall was and this guy already was punching the free love clock.
“Hey I said,” like this was normal.
And so my new life began. A life SO unlike the life I had known just 48 hours earlier.
I was in college and this was truly the portal to whatever was suppose to happen next.
I often sat at that one desk on the 3rd floor of TROJAN HALL and stared out my window to the world. I watched the changing venue of Central L.A. accentuated by dreamy palm trees and the steamy asphalt of Figueroa Blvd. I remember a guard shack below my window and the constant whine of the wooden gate that lowered and raised a hundred times a day allowing faculty to park in the lot. I remember the sound of big rigs on the Harbor Freeway in the distance. I remember the omnipresent glow of the 50 foot tall Felix The Cat neon sign, that marked the location of a massive used car dealership almost directly in front of my window.
In 1981 you moved yourself to college. You didn’t have a big party of parents tucking you in for the last time.
It was collegiate boot camp.
It’s almost 40 years later and I find myself on the 9th floor.
I’m sweating like an old man who needs a heart transplant.
I look at Snark. He too is panting like a puppy that needs a bowl of water to slurp.
“Good luck with these stairs every Goddamn day,” I say, not caring whose listening.
We enter the hallway. It reminds me of TROJAN HALL. It’s small and filled with bags and boxes and metallic bed posts. It’s cramped and has the smell of a million keg parties gone bad.
Room 939 is at the end of the hall.
We get to the open door and see parents in both rooms of the four man suite.
They are building bunk beds and hanging posters and hooking up flat screen TV’s.
I quickly surmise that nobody is having sex.
I laugh as I walk in and shake the hands of the other 3 sets of parents.
I like Snark’s new Bunkie. As fate would have it, this kid also from Pittsburgh. Wow, what are the odds of that?
I give Snark a hug and walk out of the room. I see an 18 year old now on his own, surrounded by another kid’s parents and his life stuffed into trash bags.
I’ll call him in a few days and decide how he’s doing. Did he wet his bed? Is he homesick? Does he even remember my name?
On the way home I get a text.
“Hey dad. When you get home, can you pull my clothes out of the dryer and mail them to me?”
I laugh out loud as I pass a camper headed for the Epic Eclipse.
“DUMBASS,” I type.