Sunday, May 17, 2009


[The College stories start here.]

Classy literary pieces sometimes begin with an apt quotation from a respected writer. I can do little more than be pretentious, but why should that stop me?
When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.
—Reader's Digest, September 1937.
You thought it was Mark Twain, right? So did I. But it hasn't been sourced earlier than 1937, and besides that Samuel Clemens's father died when he was eleven. But Twain is good. I'll just pick another one.
It isn't so astonishing, the number of things that I can remember, as the number of things I can remember that aren't so.
—Josh Billings, as recalled by Mark Twain to his biographer Albert Bigelow Paine.
So Twain said it, but he didn't say it, as Yogi would put it. Josh Billings was the comic character of writer Henry Wheeler Shaw, and apparently the source of the expression "just joshing". That's not a bad quote, but I'm determined to find a real quotation from Twain that will work here. Third time's the charm. This next one is for real.
When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
—Mark Twain, Notebooks, July 1898.

I don't think we realized it, but one of the lessons we needed to learn back in college was how to handle our parents. We didn't live at home any more. What were we going to do with them?

One day Lisa was talking to me about going out to JFK with her friend Andrea. I told you I worked in the library. Lisa was a student who worked mainly in Philosophy Library. She was a friend of Mary's although they couldn't have been more different. I got that shock thing with Mary but we really got on each other's nerves ; there wasn't anything like that happening with Lisa but we always got along great.

Lisa had a long series of boyfriends we never saw. I don't mean to cast doubt. I had reason to believe it. But it was like she left work and entered some other universe than the one we were in with our grind of working and studying. Good for her. I had no clue how to meet that many girls or where I would go with them if I did.

I first ran into Lisa when I went down to cover her break time in Philo. Lisa was very easy to talk to. When she asked how you were doing, she actually wanted to know. "Fine" was not a good enough answer. She'd get you started, pick up her knitting, and say "tell me more" every time you paused, until you ran out of news, or until somebody called down to ask why break wasn't over yet. I would schedule my own break to come right after I spelled Lisa, and sitting there with her was my break.

And how was Lisa herself doing? Well, she danced around that most of the time, as far as I know. You could see what her mood was all right, but if she told anybody what really was up with her, it wasn't me. She was probably doing the same thing she did with our news: she passed it along only to the ones she thought needed to know.

Anyway, back to our story. It seemed her friend needed to get to JFK, and Lisa was going to go along to keep her company, and somehow I got invited so that I could keep Lisa company on the way back. I think what was happening is that Andrea's parents were flying in from somewhere, and she was joining them to continue to somewhere else. I don't quite remember that part.

At this time I had rarely seen Lisa outside the library, and I had never met her friend Andrea. So this was a grand adventure. We all met up someplace on campus and set off downtown. The cheap way to JFK, which is what we were taking, was the subway to a place way out in Queens, and then a local bus the rest of the way. None of us had done it before. I guess we might have been helping Andrea carry stuff too, now that I think about it.

All I can recall for sure is that we had a happy time travelling together. It was dark out, and cold. Winter break maybe. But it didn't bother us. I'm pretty sure where we went was the Union Turnpike subway station, and then we went outside and found our way with other poor travellers to the bus stop nearby and took the Q-whatever bus from there. It was a long journey but the three of us were doing fine.

The interesting thing about it is that when we got to the airport, we met Andrea's parents, and Lisa and I spent a little time hanging out with them before we headed back. What comes to me clearly out of the fog of dying memory cells is Lisa and I talking on the way back about how nice Andrea's parents were, not like our dorky moms and dads. They didn't seem crazy or embarrassing at all, and we had had a reasonable conversation together. What a lucky girl that Andrea was.

That's about it. I am wondering now, off on a tangent, why I did not ask Lisa when Andrea was coming back or get her opinion on helping me contact her when she did, but maybe that right there is the difference between people like Lisa and some of the rest of us.

One more thing.

On some other occasion much later on, Lisa needed a car. By this time we were pretty good friends. I can't think of any reason we would need a car in Manhattan except to help somebody move, so let's say that was it. I don't remember any cool story to tell you about who was moving. At any rate I ended up calling my parents to find out whether we could use one of their two cars. They lived at this time in Rockland County in a house that will feature someday in my Places I Have Lived series. Yes, they told me we could borrow a car. We were going to take it overnight.

So Lisa was the first girl I brought home to meet the folks. The usual Barnard girl of the time, with her frizzy hair in a bun, well worn jeans, peasant blouse, pretty much something out of the Woodstock festival. My girlfriend? No one asked. If they thought so, fine. I liked Lisa. Anyway. We took the subway to the bus terminal, the bus up highway 9W, and got to the house. We sat in the kitchen for a while and talked to my mom and maybe my dad. It was weird. Two parts of my life colliding. I should explain that I could not have avoided this terribly awkward experience by going by myself, because I had not yet learned to drive, I was such a city kid. The only way to get the car was to bring Lisa up there with me.

So we drove the car back to New York and parked it on Claremont Avenue behind Barnard for the night. Sure, I remember that, but not whatever it was that we did with the car the next day. What can I tell you. That's how my brain works sometimes. I also don't remember anything at all about returning the car and seeing one or both of my parents a second time, but obviously we must have done that. They got the car back in good condition.

But now here's the really weird part. This is your payoff for reading this far. On the way back on the bus, Lisa told me how nice my parents were, not like her dorky mom and dad.

Megalosaurus is in college now. She writes:
My parents are a never-ending source of amusement ... I swear, I am living in a sitcom sometimes ... No wonder I turned out the way I did.
The torch is passed.
When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

[The next College story is Growing Smaller.]

Next time: Slumgullion.

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