My daughter brought me a present the other day.
That's not unusual, daughters are always surprising their fathers with presents: watches, cufflinks, maybe a nice belt.
Not mine. She brings me a paper hat from In and Out and showers the gesture with all kinds of tongue-in-cheek heraldry.
"Father, we were out and about and I saw something very special and I wanted to get it just for you because you've done so much for me. Look, isn't this great?"
Yes, yes it is.
What she doesn't know and what she couldn't know is that she stumbled upon something I had long ago forgotten. A bit of nostalgia that one could argue was the leading indicator of my future vocation.
Let's back up the story a bit.
On a family vacation to the St. Lawrence River many, many years ago, we were all piled into the 1973 Rambler making our way up Route 81 through Central New York. From the highway you could spot the telltale iconic buildings of Syracuse University. My father exited the highway rather abruptly for a little detour to scope out the school. After the 25 minute impromptu visit, we returned to the air conditionless Rambler.
"Five years from now, that's where you're going to college," he announced.
And so it was. Despite my scholarship offers from nearby and the more affordable SUNY schools, I was going to be at one of the most expensive private universities in the country. Oh and guess who was footing half the bill?
As part of my father's rigorous character-building program, I was presented with a non-stop stream of bills for books, room and board and tuition.
So I worked.
At the Brockway Student Dining Hall. I put more hours in the dishwashing room there than I did for any labs, lectures or classes about the Czarist Influence On Early 18th Century Russian literature. Hell, at the dining hall, I could make money, eat for free and steal ample slices of ham and bologna for in-room snacking.
In order to work in the dining hall I had to wear a disposable plastic apron as well as a disposable white paper hat, not unlike the one my daughter gifted me. And because the work in the dining hall was largely unbearable, washing dishes, scrubbing pots, mopping floors or refilling the ice cream tubs for JAPPY bitches who were never satisfied with the flavor selection, I was always stoned.
And because I was always lit, I made the most of the opportunity, grabbed a thick magic marker and wrote a pithy headline on the outside of each paper hat. The space was limited. And the type had to be large. What I didn't know, but know now, is that I was training myself to write billboards.
I wrote a new line for every shift. Most were bad. Some were good. I had saved hundreds of these paper hats in a box that sat in my parent's garage in Suffern, NY but sadly have been lost to time.
Not to sound too immodest, I literally had people coming up to me every day to see my new hat. And my new headline.
I put a lot of effort into those hats. Mostly with the mistaken notion that college girls really appreciate a man with a healthy sense of humor.
Turns out a plastic apron, a funny paper hat and a mop bucket was not the winning formula for getting laid.