Monday, October 24, 2016

A Visit to the Orange Nation

It's a well documented fact that cats have nine lives, but has anyone calculated how many lives belong to humans?

Today, and for the past two days, I have been holed up, under a wilting $9.99 umbrella, in Syracuse, NY. This place does not belong to me in this life, but it did a few lifetime's ago.

The memories of going to college here are quite fuzzy. Did I have a Calculus class in that building? Did I get in a screaming argument with a Film History professor in that building? Did I throw up in the bushes beside that building?

And while I may be light on the specific details, there is no problem recalling the feelings of being here. The confusion. The cold. The crippling insecurity -- (maybe my father is right, maybe I should study accounting and give up this stupid dream of becoming a writer.)

And of course there was the abject poverty.

In the four years I was here, in that other life, I never had two nickels to rub together. I was born to a family of 1st and 2nd generation immigrants. People from the shtetls of Eastern Europe and the gritty mills of working class Scotland. In other words, there was no money.

So if I wanted to go to college -- and my father convinced me I wanted to -- I had to pay for it. Not all of it, but enough of it to keep me washing dishes, tending bar, or waiting on tables, while many of my excessively wealthy classmates were driving new BMW's and buying the good weed.

But as a professor recently told us while touring colleges for our daughters, "The best teaching tool at a university is a little adversity."

In hindsight, it's easy to look back on it and smile.

I stopped in at the Varsity Pizza the other night for a slice of nostalgia. And at one point it occurred to me, I could buy everyone in the place a pie and a pitcher of beer. Then my pepperoni pizza arrived and it wasn't nearly half as good as I had remembered. Then I thought...

Let these spoiled bastards pay for their own pizza.

It was another life, an invaluable one at that. Because after four years, I left with something more important than any sheepskin -- a sense of self and $25,000 worth of confidence.

Three weeks after graduating from Ice Station Zebra, I packed a duffel bag full of clothes, bought a one way ticket to Los Angeles, and got a room at a UCLA frat house, technically it wasn't a room, it was a mattress on the roof, but it was place to lay my head.

The beginning of another life.

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