“There’s a time and place for everything, and it’s called ‘college.’ ”
— “South Park“
There are very few days in my life I would like to relive.
Seriously. For a guy who spends time writing about his grandfather’s 40-year-old calendar entries, I’m surprisingly in the now. Life moves in one direction; and while the past can inspire, inform or entertain, it’s no place to stay.
Still, just as a theoretical exercise:
If I could drop myself back into one day from the past, without cosmically altering any of the events to come, I might well choose the first day of one of my years of college. Maybe not freshman year, sure; but definitely sophomore or junior years, when I knew my way around.
The American pop mythos tends to celebrate the last day of school, from Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” to a movie popular in my college years, “Dazed and Confused.”
In “Grease” — one of my movie musicals of choice, and a musical I once had a lot of fun playing in a high-school pit band — the action begins on the first day but climaxes on the last.
(At least, I hope it was the last day. It would have been awfully anticlimactic if Sandy and Danny had gone soaring into the sky in their convertible, only to have to come down again for a perfunctory few half-days of standardized testing.)
But I remember the first day of college as a time of excitement. It was a time to ditch the parents, the summer job and the quiet of my suburban hometown, and plunge back into the intoxicating freedom of America’s greatest city.
I can remember being in my dorm room, alone, surrounded by a welter of still-unpacked boxes, thinking, “Hmmm, what to do first? Should I make some calls and see who’s around? Check in at the newspaper office? Go buy some beer? Play my guitar really loudly and piss off the new RA? Or just go walk up and down Comm. Ave. in the late-summer heat, listening to the clang of the trains and the flow of the traffic?”
I wonder if my dad felt the same way when he went off to college — as he was doing in this week’s calendar entry.
The car in my grandpa’s illustration merits a few words of its own, albeit from my secondhand recollections. (I’m sure my dad will correct me in the Comments as needed.)
It was a ’59 Plymouth, if I correctly recall what I’ve been told. It really was orange. It had a dashboard-mounted push-button transmission, one of those classic ’50s “innovations” that probably carried some jazzy name like “Dyn-O-Shift.” And, due to the car’s general ungainliness, my dad called it the Shrimp Boat.
(I am lucky that this land-trawler never went shiny-side-down on the Merritt Parkway some snowy evening. Otherwise, you’d be doing something more productive with your time right now.)
In the fall of 1963, my dad would have been a junior at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York … an electrical engineering major, a proud member of Sigma Chi fraternity, and maybe even already involved with the young lady who would become my mother.
A year later to the week, much would have changed in America, including the assassination of President Kennedy; the arrival of a group of mop-headed, endearing young Englishmen called the Beatles; the federal government’s first declaration that smoking is hazardous to health; the high-profile murders of Kitty Genovese, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney; the introduction of the Ford Mustang; and the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which accelerated the U.S. presence in Southeast Asia.
But my dad was steaming unaffected from Stamford to Troy, in the same car, apparently with the same load:
I have no idea why my grandfather was so obsessed with recording the mileage of cars he didn’t even drive. I do enjoy his faithful rendering of the Shrimp Boat’s tailfins, even though they seem to have receded slightly in comparison to the rest of the car.
I have trouble imagining that arrival in Troy, New York, occasioned quite the same big-city thrill as arrival in Boston.
But, who knows? It’s fun to imagine my dad at 20 and 21, lugging the last of his boxes into his room, and trying to decide whether friends, music, beer or a getting-reacquainted stroll will be first on his to-do list.
If he was me, he chose “all of the above” … and the semester only got better from there.