October 13, 1994. The Walk of Shame.

I got back from the dining hall a little after 6:00 and went straight to my room.  I had math homework that was due tomorrow. Math was easy for me, so I cranked it out in about half an hour.  I turned on the computer and logged into the school network. As the computer connected, making a long series of dings and buzzes and whistles, I turned on the radio.  I flipped to the classic rock station; Pink Floyd was on. I had gotten into Pink Floyd senior year of high school; they had a new album out for the first time in seven years, so they were getting a lot of media attention.  And they spent much of 1994 touring, for what would be their final tour together as a band. But I’m getting distracted.  I’ll tell more about my Pink Floyd phase later.  It came right after my Queen phase and right before my… well, my next phase in music is also a story worth telling later.  I’m getting ahead of myself.

I got a new computer as a high school graduation present.  Having Internet access and service wasn’t a given when you bought a new computer in 1994, like it is now.  There was no wi-fi, no cable Internet, nothing like that. You had to connect your computer to a telephone line.  And you had to have some kind of service to get connected to other computers. I subscribed to a prepackaged service called America Online, along with millions of other people.  It had chat rooms, email, information services, and fora (most people would say “forums,” but I’ve always been the type to use Latin and Greek irregular plurals for effect) that were part of the service, and a feature had recently been added allowing users to connect to email and fora that were not part of their service.  Back in 1994, it was used by a lot of people as a gateway to the Internet and online communication because it was easier to use than most of the alternatives. Of course, this furthered its bad reputation among real techies, as AOL users were often unfamiliar with the etiquette of the Internet outside of AOL’s in-house features.

I spent much of my time online in chat rooms.  Random strangers said whatever they wanted, and in between all the posturing, bullying, and pointless swear words, sometimes a useful conversation would arise.  I had a few friends I made in chat rooms whom I still sent emails to. Like this high school girl from Texas named Brittany whom I met when I was still using AOL. But I’m getting distracted again. Brittany is another story for another time.

I ended up canceling my AOL subscription before the end of my first quarter at UJ, since everything I used it for I could now do on the UJ school network.  I discovered Internet Relay Chat early in my first year, and I wasted, I mean spent, a lot of time on it over the next few years. The Pink Floyd Usenet group also took up a lot of my time that first year, and there was some interesting stuff going on there… again, another story for another time.  Sorry for all the distractions.

I connected to Internet Relay Chat and watched the chat scroll by.  A few people said hi to me, and I said hi back. Someone named Cutie asked how I was doing, and I said I was doing well.  For me, much of the appeal of chat rooms was talking to girls, since I wasn’t very good at that in real life, and when I did, things often went horribly wrong.

I sent Cutie a private message.  People who call themselves Cutie are usually female.  She asked if I was a guy or a girl. I told her I was a guy, and she said she was a girl.  She asked where I was from. She asked what I looked like. She said I sounded very attractive.  That was flattering. She did too.

Next, she told me she was lying in bed in her underwear, and asked what I was wearing.  She also said she had big boobs. This was unexpected, but exciting in a way. I could feel myself becoming aroused.  And this led to my first sexually explicit online conversation. Back then it was sometimes called “cybersex,” functionally equivalent to what the next generation referred to as “sexting.”  I’m not going to give you a transcript of the conversation. This story is going to stay PG-rated.

At some point, I asked Cutie what she did, if she worked or was in school or what.  She said she went to Harvard. “Wow,” I typed. She replied, “Scholar by day, naughty girl by night.”  I emailed Cutie once a few days later. She wrote back once, it was one sentence, and I never heard from her again.  Given what I know now, looking back as an adult, I’m pretty sure she just made that up. She wasn’t really a student at Harvard, and she might not have even been a girl.  People lie about who they are on the Internet all the time.

I kept thinking about what happened for the rest of the night.  It felt good. This was a new way to masturbate that felt more real than fantasizing about girls who barely knew I existed, or looking at the bikini contest pictures in the car magazines that my dad liked to read.  But I also felt dirty.  I grew up in a very sexually repressed environment, partially because of my Catholic upbringing from my mom’s side of the family, and partially because sex was just never talked about in my family.  No one ever gave me The Talk; I just kind of learned it on my own with my hunches confirmed in science and health classes in school.

I felt like I needed a shower after this.  I walked down the hall to the bathroom, hoping no one would see me, as if I was taking some sort of Walk of Shame.  And no one did see me until I walked into the bathroom. Ian was washing his hands, and he said hi, and I said hi back.  That was all.

As I’m writing this now, I debated for a long time whether or not to mention this at all.  It’s still not something I talk about much. But even so, I’m here to tell my story, and this is definitely an important part of my story, of understanding who I am. 

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September-October 1994. New friends in Building C.

Back in Plumdale, I didn’t live near any of my friends.  Plumdale is a semi-rural community in a hilly area. Our neighbors were hundreds of feet down the road, and the few neighbors I had didn’t have kids my age.  So being in Building C, with seventy peers my age in the same building, and eleven other buildings sharing the same dining hall, was a new and exciting experience for me.

Often when I was bored, I would just walk down the hall and see if anyone was around to talk to.  If someone had their door open, sometimes I would poke my head in and say hi, and for the most part people didn’t seem too annoyed by that.  That’s why doors open and close, I suppose. This also seemed a bit out of character for me, because until my mid-teens, I was very shy and quiet and reserved.  I think it had a lot to do with kids being so mean to me in elementary school, and it took until the middle of high school to realize that some people were actually going to be nice to me.

On Wednesday of the first week in the dorm, the night before classes started, I was walking around on the first floor.  The first floor only had about half as many bedrooms as the other floors; the other half of the first floor was taken up by a common room, a study lounge, and a locked closet for the custodian.  I walked past a room with an open door, one of the larger rooms that held four students, girls in this case. I had only met two of these girls. As I walked by, I saw a small group of people sitting on the floor in a circle.  Mike from the second floor saw me first. “Hey, Greg!” he said. “Come on in!”

Mike was there, and so was Keith. Next to them were Cathy and Phuong, two of the girls who lived there.  A guy named Pete, who lived next door to the girls, sat next to Phuong; he was short with bushy brown hair.  Next to him was a girl I hadn’t met before; she had medium-brown shoulder-length hair and a warm and friendly smile.  I guessed that she was probably one of the other girls who lived in this room.

“Hi,” I said to everyone.

“I don’t think I’ve met you yet,” the brown-haired girl said.  “I’m Sarah.”

“I’m Greg,” I replied.

“Nice to meet you!”

“Greg knows a cool party trick,” Mike said.  I looked at him and laughed, because after our conversation in the dining hall on Monday, I was pretty sure I knew what he was talking about.

“Oh yeah?” Sarah asked.

“Tell him what highways run through your hometown, and he’ll tell you where you’re from.”

Sarah looked a little puzzled, but she went with it.  “Well, the main highway is 9.”

“Okay,” I said.  I knew highway 9, but it ran almost the entire length of the state, so that didn’t narrow it down much.

“And 136.”

“Wait,” I said.  “I know this one.”  I searched the depths of my brain trying to remember where highway 136 was.  It took me between five and ten seconds. “You’re from Ralstonville.”

“I am from Ralstonville,” Sarah said.  “How did you know that?”

“I don’t know.  I just like looking at maps.  And I pay attention to road signs.”

“Where are you from?”

“Plumdale.  Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

“I’ve never heard of Plumdale.  I’ve heard of Santa Lucia.”

“That’s usually what people say.”

“I bet you never get lost,” Cathy said.

“You’re right, I don’t,” I said.  “At least not when I’m driving.”

 

A recurring theme for me those first few months at UJ was learning just how much I still had to learn.  Even my cool party trick didn’t always work. One time during that first week, I had my door open, and someone knocked and poked her head in.  She was slightly shorter than average, with chin-length brown curly hair and glasses.  She smiled.

“Hi,” I said.

“You’re Greg, right?”

“Yes.  Danielle, was it?”

“Yes.  It’s nice to meet you for real.”

“You too.”

“May I come in?”

“Sure!”  Since I had a single room, there was only one chair in the room.  I gave it to her and pulled the pillow off my bed, using it as a cushion to sit on the floor.

“So what’s your major?” she asked.

“I haven’t decided yet.  I’m thinking something like math or physics or chemistry.  Those were the classes I was good at in high school.”

“I’m a psych major,” she said.  “It seems like there are a lot of science-y people in IHP this year.  A lot of engineers and stuff like that.”

“I’ve noticed,” I said.

“Have you considered being an engineer?”

I paused.  “Not really,” I said.  “I don’t know.”

“I guess you don’t have to know yet.”

“Yeah.”

“Where are you from?”

“Plumdale,” I said.  “Near Santa Lucia and Gabilan.”

“That’s nice.  I like that area.  We went to see the aquarium in Santa Lucia last summer.  I loved it!”

“It’s nice,” I said.

“It didn’t get as hot in the summer as it did back home.”

“Where are you from?”

“Desert Ridge.”

I paused.  Desert Ridge.  I had asked dozens of people this week where they were from, and for the first time, I replied with, “I don’t know where that is.”

“About five hours from here, in the Los Muertos Desert.  There’s an Air Force base there.”

“I learned something new today,” I said.  “I’m usually pretty good with knowing where places are, but I hadn’t heard of Desert Ridge.”

“It’s not that exciting, trust me.”

“Neither is Plumdale.”  We both laughed.

Danielle and I talked for several more minutes.  She lived in room 216, the four-person room on my floor.  Danielle was in choir. One of her roommates was Caroline, the girl from Australia.  And she went to high school with Spencer on the first floor, but they weren’t great friends.  I had seen Spencer in passing, but I didn’t really know him yet.

“I should get going,” Danielle said.  “I have a class coming up soon. Are you done with classes for today?”

“I have one more later this afternoon,” I said.  “But it was good talking to you.”

“You too!  See you around, Greg.”

 

One Saturday night, I think it was two weeks after I had moved in, I came back from the dining hall and saw Pete, Joe, Keith, and a guy named Charlie who lived down at the other end of the second floor sitting around a table, where they were playing a board game.  I walked over to see what they were playing.

“Hey, Greg,” Pete said.  “Want to join us? We’re just starting.”

“What are you playing?”

“Risk.”

“I’ve heard of that, but I’ve never played.”

“It’s a long game, but it’s a lot of fun.  You want to learn?”

“Sure!”

Pete explained the rules of the game to me, about placing armies on the map, how to attack and defend, and when to get more armies.  The object of the game was to take over the world by conquering the armies in every country.  “You ready?” he asked eventually.

“I guess,” I said.  We took turns placing armies on the board at the beginning.  I wasn’t really sure what to do, but I at least understood how the game worked now.  And, miraculously, I wasn’t the first to die. Pete wiped out Keith and took over Northern Europe, Keith’s last country, after only five turns around the board.  He then attacked Ukraine, which was held by Joe.

“Come on, give me some good numbers!” Joe said to the dice as he rolled.

“You can hang on, Joe!” Keith said.  At this point, we could all see that Pete was the most experienced player and would probably win.  Everyone wanted to stop Pete.

“DE-FENSE!” I started chanting, then clapping twice, as if I were at a football game.  “DE-FENSE!” Clap, clap.

“DE-FENSE!” Joe joined in, chuckling.  Clap, clap.

“DE-FENSE!”  Clap, clap. Pretty soon, everyone was chanting in support of Joe defending Ukraine against Pete’s invading army, including David, Joe’s roommate, who had walked down a few minutes ago and wasn’t even playing.  Our chants were to little avail; Pete took Ukraine eventually and went on to win the game. I was the second player eliminated, after Keith.

Even though I didn’t win Risk, I had a lot of fun that night.  Sure, college wasn’t all fun and games; I had classes and homework and studying and all of that.  And I had some really tough times over the years. But the memories that have stayed with me the most after almost a quarter-century have been the times I spent with friends.  These days, I am living in Capital City, and whenever I drive across the river and through the fields that separate Capital City from Jeromeville, I always remember these college friends.  And each of these three stories directly impacted my life again later on. My cool party trick would resurface a year and a half later, a hundred miles away, in a car with Sarah and Caroline and two people whom I had not even met yet at this point.  Something that Danielle said, which held no special significance to me on that day, would later lead to a new experience outside of my comfort zone. And I would learn many new strategy games from Pete over the years.

I didn’t have a lot of friends for most of my childhood, so having friends was still new to me, and I still had to learn how it worked.  And I didn’t realize at the time how hard it would be to make friends as an adult, so I didn’t fully appreciate just how special these bygone days would be.  But I can learn from the experience, and I can look for times when I can be that new friend to some other lost, lonely, confused soul.

September 26, 1994. The first thing I learned in college.

I still remember the first thing I learned in college. It happened after dinner on my second day in the dorm.

Well, I guess I learned some things before that Monday night. I learned where my room was. I learned how to set up and use some of the computer stuff I would need. I learned how to buy textbooks. But none of that really counts. Those were more like following directions. I’m talking about the first thing that someone taught me at school. And it wasn’t anything I learned in a classroom from a professor.

I walked to the dining hall for dinner on Monday night, my fourth meal in the dining hall. The common building for the South Residential Area was two stories high. On the first floor was a lounge with a pool table and couches; a little shop with frozen yogurt, sandwiches, and baked goods; our mailboxes; and a help desk that was open 24 hours in case we needed anything related to student housing. The dining hall was on the second floor, and a large, wide stairway led from the outside up to the dining hall. This was the main entrance; I don’t think there was even a publicly accessible way to get to the dining hall from the first floor rooms I just mentioned.

I walked toward a round table with a few familiar faces. To my left was a short Filipino guy whom I had met after the meeting with the RAs last night; he had introduced himself then as Joe, and he lived on the third floor. To the left was Joe’s roommate, David; he was very large and built like a football player, and I thought I remembered him being one of the guys throwing the ball during quiet hours last night. Gurpreet, the RA down the hall from me, was next. Next to him was Michael-or-Ian, whom I had met yesterday when I was moving in but whose name I wasn’t sure of. Next to him was someone I didn’t know, a tall thin boy with acne scars and dark blond hair. And next to him, to my right, was a guy who I thought was named Keith; I had talked to him at some point earlier in the day, but I didn’t remember what room he lived in.

“Hey, Greg!” Joe said. “Come sit with us!”

“Hi. How are you?”

“I’m good.” Joe then turned to the others. “Have all of you guys met Greg yet?”

The others at the table nodded and murmured in the affirmative, except for the one whom I hadn’t met yet. “Hey, Greg,” he said. “I’m Mike.” Gesturing toward Michael-or-Ian sitting next to him, he said, “I’m Ian’s roommate.” That answered my question once and for all as to who was Michael and who was Ian.

“Nice to meet you, Mike.”

“So where are you from?” Mike asked me.

“Plumdale.”

“Where’s that?”

“On highway 11, near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

“What’s that near? I’ve heard of Santa Lucia.”

“About 50 miles south of San Tomas. Does that help?”

“Yeah.  Okay.”

“Where are you from?”

“Pleasant Creek. No one ever knows where that is either.”

“I drove through it yesterday to get here. It’s on highway 6 next to Los Nogales. East of Bay City.”

“How do you know all this?”

“I don’t know. I just do. I’m fascinated by maps and roads and stuff like that.”

“Whoa.”

Keith, at least I think that was his name, joined in. “I bet you don’t know where Hilltown is.”

Hilltown… I thought for a minute. “On highway 11 and 94, between Bay City and San Tomas, right?”

“Whoa!” Keith said. “How do you do this?”

“I don’t know. I just do. I pay attention to these things.”

“I bet you never get lost on road trips,” Joe said.

“That’s pretty much true.”

“Hey, guys?” Gurpreet said. “After dinner I’m meeting some friends to play a pickup game of Ultimate Frisbee. Do any of you want to come?”

“Sure!” Mike exclaimed eagerly.

“I’m in,” Keith said.

“I don’t know how to play,” I said. “What is this?”

“It’s kind of like football or soccer, but with a Frisbee instead of a ball.”

I am not a natural athlete. I am slow and clumsy. Mark got all the athletic talent in our family. “Sure,” I said, not really sure what I was getting myself into, but wanting to do something other than stay in my room that night.

“Meet me in the lounge at 7, and we’ll walk over to the field together.”

“Sounds good,” Mike said.

An hour later, Gurpreet, Mike, Keith, and I were walking to the old part of the campus, to the recreation field on A Street next to the football field. On the way, Gurpreet had explained to me the rules of the game. Scoring was similar to football, in that your team had to get the Frisbee into an end zone, but the disc could only move by passing. Players could not run with the disc. And if the Frisbee hits the ground, the other team takes it. I would learn years later that the game is officially just called Ultimate, because the governing body of the sport is not affiliated with the manufacturer of Frisbee brand flying discs.

“Sounds pretty simple,” I said.

“It is,” Gurpreet replied. “It’s going to be a lot of running, though.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Gurpreet’s friends met us at the field. They looked much more athletic than me. Fortunately, some of them were on our team. We lined up on each side, and the other team threw the disc the length of the field toward our team, analogous to the opening kickoff in football. We began passing it down the field. One of Gurpreet’s friends passed it in my direction, but further downfield from where I stood. I ran after it, but the disc sailed over my head.

“Sorry,” I said to Mike as we both ran in the same direction trying to play defense.

“It’s ok,” he said. “That would have been hard for anyone to catch.”

Someone from the other team threw a pass to a teammate in my direction. I ran as fast as I could, jumped up just in front of the intended receiver, and slapped the disc down to the ground. I waited for a teammate to get open. I saw Mike, tried to throw it about 20 yards down the field, and the disc curved off to the right, rolling to the ground far from where Mike was. So far, I was not good at this game.

We scored first, on the next possession after that one. Keith threw a short pass to Gurpreet, who noticed one of his friends open downfield; he threw a perfectly aimed pass, which his friend caught as he ran into the end zone. The opposing team scored shortly after that, with a series of quick passes down the field.

We had agreed that the first team to 10 points would be the winners. After we had been playing for a while, my team led by a score of 9 to 7. The opposing team was deep on their own side of the field. They made a short pass that should have gotten them a few yards closer to their goal, but the guy who caught the pass dropped it, for no apparent reason. Keith picked it up. I saw an opening; I ran into the end zone in a direction away from all the opposing players. I looked at Keith, about ten yards away, and waved my hands, trying not to attract the attention of the other team, who still did not seem to notice that I was in the end zone. Keith passed the disc straight to me, and I caught it, holding on with both hands.

“YEAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!” I shouted.

Keith, Mike, Gurpreet, and some of the others on my team ran toward me. “We won!” Mike exclaimed, giving me a forceful high five.

“That was a great catch!” Gurpreet said.

“WOOOOOOHOOOOOO!” I shouted.

I was still on a high as we walked back across campus to the South Residential Area. I just scored the winning point in a game that I didn’t know existed a few hours ago. Most of the others in the game had played before, and yet the opportunity to score the winning point came to me, not any of them. I had spent much of my life in the shadows, quietly doing my work at school, staying out of the way at home while engaging in solitary hobbies that the rest of my family did not understand. But now, I had come to the University of Jeromeville, and it was my time to shine.

I’ve often told people over the years that the first thing I learned in college was how to play Ultimate Frisbee. I don’t think I said that back when I was actually in college, though. Now that I think about it, the first time I ever said that probably wasn’t until around 2003, when I was living in Pleasant Creek and Brent Wang had that weekly Ultimate pick-up game. Wait… I haven’t mentioned Brent Wang yet. I didn’t know him yet freshman year. I’ll get there eventually. But anyway, given the way that things went during my college years, it really is appropriate that the first thing I learned wasn’t something I learned in a classroom.

September 25, 1994. Moving day.

This was it.  After over two and a half hours in the car from Plumdale to Jeromeville, and getting a key and a packet of paperwork from a friendly RA named Amy, it was time to see my new room.  We were fairly early, and many students seemed not to have arrived yet.  Mom and Dad and I climbed the stairs and found room 221.  We noticed someone else moving into room 206, a guy with glasses whose name was either Michael or Ian, according to the signs on the door.  A woman, presumably his mother, was in the room with him.  “Hi,” Michael or Ian said as he saw us walking up the stairs.

“Hi,” I said.  We continued walking down the hall; I didn’t want to be unfriendly, but I was a little overwhelmed and nervous at everything going on too.  Besides, I had another nine months in Building C, and I was sure I’d be seeing a lot of Michael or Ian around.

The building I was moving into was not the one I had toured in February.  For some reason, the Interdisciplinary Honors Program had to move to a different building.  We were now in the South Residential Area, in the cluster of dorms near the cow barn that we had driven past last year.  The twelve identical buildings were named with letters from A through M, with no building I probably because I looked too much like the number 1.  Buildings A through F were called Thomas Hall, and buildings G through M were called Pearson Hall.  There were two other buildings in the area: Walsh Hall, shaped differently from the letter buildings, and the building that housed the dining hall.  I was in building C.  My address was “221 C-Thomas Hall,” but I would figure out quickly over the next few days that no one ever actually called it Thomas Hall except for when they were addressing mail.  I started telling people I lived in Building C in the South Area.  People knew what that meant.

Each building had three large rooms that held four people each, six small rooms that held one student, and the rest were double rooms.  A total of around 70 students lived in each building.  Of the six small rooms, two of them were reserved for the resident advisors, the older students whose jobs are to be in charge of us.  And of the other four single rooms, somehow I was lucky enough to get one.  I found this comforting.  The idea of sleeping in the same room as a roommate was kind of terrifying to me.  For that matter, a lot of things from this whole college experience were terrifying to me, so having one less thing to be terrified about was definitely a plus.

The door to room 221 had a sign on it that said “Greg.”  It appeared that the RAs, or someone, had made signs like this for all the new residents.  I opened the door to room 221 and walked in.  The three of us looked around, and I could tell instantly that Mom was disappointed.  “It’s cozy,” she said after a ten-second pause.  She clearly thought the room was too small.  It was about eight feet wide and eleven feet long.  There was a small closet immediately to the right of the entryway.  A twin-size bed was against the right wall, and a dresser and small desk against the left wall, with less than two feet of room between them.  Amy had explained something earlier about where and when to get the parts to make the bed into a loft, and now that I saw the room, I definitely wanted to do that, so I could put the desk and dresser under the bed and sleep up above, like a top bunk.

I didn’t think it was too small.  I didn’t need a lot of room.

After we got everything unpacked and put away, it was time for Mom and Dad to leave.  Mom fought back tears and said something sappy, and Dad grunted and said, “Love ya, son,” or something like that.  I wasn’t sure what I was feeling at that point.

Next, I tried to take a nap, because I was physically tired, but my mind was racing from the new surroundings.  The walls and ceiling of Room 221 were painted a bland off-white color.  That was fine with me.  A bulletin board hung on the wall across from the bed; it was currently bare.  Behind my head was a window that took up the entire width of the room.  It faced south, toward a grassy yard next to the building, a large oak tree, and a parking lot farther in the distance.

I eventually started fiddling with setting up my computer.  The computer had been a high school graduation gift from Mom and Dad.  It had a 66MHz 486 processor, a 512MB hard drive, and a 14.4k modem for connecting to other computers over telephone lines.  This was a pretty good computer in 1994.

I received a letter from Dr. McGillicuddy over the summer explaining that all IHP students would have access to email, and that we would be communicating frequently by email.  Email was not exactly a new technology, but the early 90s was when email became mainstream, used by people other than scientists and computer programmers, so it was new to me.  It was probably new to some of the students here, but others probably had wealthy software engineer parents and had been using email for years.  I went through the instructions for how to set up my email account, entering the phone number for student dialup access and listening to the dings and buzzes and hisses that were universally associated with connecting to the Internet in the 90s.  When I finished, I heard people in the hallway, so I disconnected and poked my head out the door to see who was there.  The door to room 219 next to me was open, so I looked in.

“Hi,” a tall, thin Asian boy with acne scars and bushy, slightly unkempt hair said.  “I’m Aaron.  Are you on this floor?”

“I’m Greg.  Right next door.”

“Nice to meet you!  So where are you from?”

“Plumdale.”

“Where’s that?”

“In the hills near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.  On highway 11.”

“Oh, ok.  I’m from Willow Grove.”

“Near San Tomas?”

“Yeah!  You’ve been there?”

“Not really.  I’ve just seen the signs from the freeway.  We always used go up to Bay City for baseball games, and we’d go right past the Willow Grove exit.”

“You play baseball?”

“Oh. No.  Just watch,” I explained.  “But not anymore.  Major League Baseball is on strike.  They cancelled the World Series.  And now hockey is on strike too.”

“Oh yeah, I heard something about that.”

“Are a lot of other people here yet?  I was in my room for the last hour and didn’t notice.  We moved in early.”

“I’ve seen people trickle in,” Aaron said.  “I haven’t really talked to a lot of people yet.”

“You’re the first one I talked to, although I saw a guy down the hall earlier.”

“Well, it was nice meeting you.  I’ll see you at that meeting tonight?”

“Yeah.”

I walked down the hall to the bathroom.  I thought that Aaron’s response about baseball was a little odd.  It seems like everyone in my world back home was talking about Major League Baseball being on strike and the World Series being cancelled.  It was strange to me that there existed people who did not know about this.

I met a few other people on the walk back to my room: a medium-height brown-haired girl named Catherine in 212; a tall blonde girl named Rebekah, who lived on the third floor who had a question and had been looking for one of the RAs; and the RA I hadn’t met yet, Gurpreet, in 215.  Gurpreet was tall, with dark skin, glasses, facial hair, and a turban covering his hair which appeared to be in a bun-like pattern.  There were very few Punjabis or practicing Sikhs in Plumdale, so this style of dress and appearance were completely new to me.

“Hi,” Gurpreet said.  “I’m Gurpreet, the RA.  What’s your name?”

“Greg,” I said.  “I’m in room 221.”

“Nice to meet you!  You heard about the meeting at 7?”

“Yes, I did.”

Later that night, I ate dinner at the dining hall.  I sat by myself and did a lot of people-watching.  About five minutes after I got my food, a thin girl with straight brown hair and blue eyes sat next to me.  “You live right down the hall from me, don’t you?” she said.  “In C building?”

“Yes,” I said.  “I’m Greg.”

“I’m Liz.  Nice to meet you.  My roommate and her parents are moving a lot of stuff in right now, so I came down here to get out of their way.”

“Probably a good idea.”

“Where are you from?”

“Briones,” she said.

“Oh, ok.”

“You know where that is?”

“Northeast of Bay City on 100, right?”

“Yeah!  Have you been there?”

“No.  I’ve just seen it on a map.  I’ve always been fascinated with reading maps.  I don’t know why.”

“That’s neat.”

“And apparently I’m good at knowing where places are.  Aaron in room 219 was surprised that I knew where Willow Grove was.  You probably don’t know where Plumdale is.”

“No, I don’t.  Is that where you’re from?”

“Yeah.  Santa Lucia County, about an hour south of San Tomas.”

“Ok.  I’ve been to Santa Lucia.”

“Have you met a lot of people in the building yet?”

“A few,” Liz said.  “There’s one girl down the hall who is from Australia.  She’s lived in the US for about five years, but she has a cool accent.  Her father is some kind of big international businessman in Bay City.”

“Wow,” I said.

When we got back to the building, it was almost time for the meeting about the rules.  It all seemed pretty straightforward.  Quiet after 11pm.  Don’t give anyone your access card.  Evacuation policy.  No alcohol or drugs.  Where to get mail.  Phone numbers to call if there was a problem.  Stuff like that.

I was used to going to bed at ten o’clock, and I stayed up until almost 11 reading that night.  But when I finally went to bed, it was not that simple.  I spent an hour tossing and turning among the noises of others talking, laughing, and seemingly running up and down the hall.  It was after 11, it was supposed to be quiet time, and I considered reporting all of this to Amy or Gurpreet in the morning.  I got increasingly cranky and frustrated as the night dragged on, and a few minutes after midnight, still not able to go to sleep with all the noise, I quietly tiptoed out of the room, as I observed two guys down the hall throwing a ball back and forth and laughing boorishly.  I went downstairs and outside.

I walked to the pay telephone outside of the dining hall.  My long distance service had not been hooked up in the room yet, and in 1994 you couldn’t just call long distance from any phone.  I knew that my parents had something called a calling card, where I could enter a PIN number and have the call billed to them.  They told me to use that until the long distance was working.

Mom answered after the third ring; she had definitely been asleep.  “I’m sorry to wake you up,” I said.  “I can’t do this.  Everyone is noisy, and I can’t sleep.  It’s supposed to be quiet time after 11, and they aren’t enforcing it very well.  I’m packing up and coming home.”

“Don’t do that,” Mom said.

“But I can’t sleep.  I can’t survive an entire school year without sleeping.”

“You always have trouble sleeping in an unfamiliar place,” Mom reminded me.  “But you get used to it.  And you’ll get used to this too.”

“Maybe,” I said.

“Give it another week.  If you hate it and still want to give up after a week, then we’ll talk about it.”

“That seems fair.”

“Can I go back to sleep now?  Are you ok?”

“Yes.”

“I think you’ll be fine.”

“Ok.”

“Bye.”

“Bye,” I said, hanging up the phone.  I walked quietly back to Building C and went back to my room.  I got back in bed and closed my eyes.

The building had definitely gotten quieter since I left a few minutes ago.  Maybe the noise was finally dying down.  Or maybe Amy or Gurpreet had put a stop to the noise.  But Mom was right.  I did always have trouble sleeping in unfamiliar settings, and this was definitely an unfamiliar setting.  Not only were there unfamiliar sights and sounds, but there were unfamiliar people as well.  I had never met a Sikh before, or the child of a wealthy Australian businessman, or someone who didn’t follow baseball.  But that’s the great thing about a large university like Jeromeville: it brings people from all different backgrounds together to learn from each other.  And I have my own unique background to share; for example, it was becoming apparent to me that many of the other students in Building C had never met someone before who reads maps for fun.

Room 221 certainly was not the most spacious or luxurious place I’ve ever lived.  And most of my memories from that year happened outside of Room 221.  Despite that, however, Room 221 it was still my first home away from home.  And I got a little sad when I read in 2012 that the letter buildings of Thomas and Pearson halls did not meet current building codes and would be torn down.  But I still have all my memories of reading, studying, sleeping, and sitting in front of the computer for hours at a time.

September 24, 1994. Prologue IV: The day before.

Plumdale High School’s football field was not the typical high school stadium.  The bleachers were built into a hillside, sloping down from the rest of the school campus, with the field at the bottom of the hill, so when you approached the stadium, you entered from the top row, not from the bottom.  You could barely tell that there was a stadium there if you didn’t know where to look.  Also contributing to its low profile was the lack of lights.  And because there were no lights, games were played on Saturday afternoon, whereas most of the other high school teams in the area were played on Friday night.

I woke up to the ticket booth on that Saturday afternoon and bought one general-admission ticket.  Two weeks earlier, at the previous game, actually buying a ticket was a new experience for me, since that had been my first time attending a Plumdale Panthers football game and not being a student anymore.

I walked about halfway down the bleachers to my usual spot from the year before, right across the aisle from where the marching band sat.  I went to every game the year before, my senior year, and I always sat across the aisle from the band, because some of my friends were in the band.  More specifically, I sat there because Melissa was in band and she usually came and sat next to me during the third quarter, when the band took a break after doing the halftime show.

I was over Melissa by now.  She never liked me like that, she went to another school’s prom with a friend of a friend who needed a date, and that made me upset.  But she didn’t like him like that either.  And we were still friends.

“Hey, Greg,” I heard a male voice say as I approached my usual seat.  It was Mr. Peterson, my economics teacher from the year before, who was a University of Jeromeville alumnus.  “Have you left for Jeromeville yet?”

“Tomorrow morning,” I said.  “I’m going to pack as soon as I get home from this game.”

“Good luck,” he said.  “I think you’ll really like it there.”

“Thanks.”  I sat and watched the game, looking through the program during timeouts and slow parts of the game.  I still recognized a lot of names on the team, but there were only a few players on the team whom I actually knew.

Early in the second quarter, I heard a female voice behind me say, “Greg!  You’re still here!”  I looked up and saw Rachel Copeland sitting next to me.  She was a year behind me, just starting her senior year, but she had a lot of friends in my year, including her boyfriend from last year, Paul Dickinson.  I don’t think they were together anymore, though.

“I leave tomorrow,” I said.

“Are you ready?”

“Not really.  I’m going to pack tonight.  But I’m excited about it.”

“I didn’t think you’d be here today.”

“There aren’t a lot of people I know still in town.  Melissa left for San Angelo last week.  They’re on the same schedule as Jeromeville, but she’s living with relatives so she doesn’t have to wait for the dorms to open.  Renee started at Moonville State in August, and so did Kevin at University of the Bay.  I haven’t talked to anyone else in the last couple weeks.”

“Paul left Friday for Santa Teresa.  His family is staying in a hotel there for a few days, making a vacation of it.”

“That’s cool.”  It sounded like Rachel and Paul were at least still friends if she knew this.  Or maybe they were back together and I didn’t know it.  You never know.

“So how come Santa Teresa and San Angelo and Jeromeville and those schools all start so late?” Rachel asked.

“Because we’re on the three-quarter schedule,” I said.  “Instead of having two semesters, we have three terms during the year, so our finals breaks come a third and two thirds of the way through the year.  So we need to start late so the winter holidays come a third of the way through the year, instead of halfway through.”

Rachel thought about this.  “So your school year gets out later, then?”

“We go until the middle of June.”

“Don’t other schools get out earlier than that?”

“I’m not really sure.”  I wasn’t.  I really didn’t know that most colleges get out well before June.  High school typically lasted into June in this state in the 90s, so I figured college was the same.

Rachel went and sat with some other friends at halftime.  I got to say hi to a couple of my other former teachers that day.  I don’t remember who won that game.  I don’t even remember who the opponent was.  But I do remember one thing: Plumdale High School would always be a part of my life, but it was time to move on.  And the next morning, everything was going to change, forever.

February 26, 1994. Prologue III: High Achieving Scholars’ Day.

I don’t know if I thought about it at the time, but one of the most noteworthy things I remember about road trips in my teens is listening to the radio.  Seriously.  Plumdale didn’t get any good radio stations.  There were a few stations playing hip-hop, R&B, and gangsta rap.  My brother Mark, who didn’t come on this trip, liked to listen to these, but I outgrew that about halfway through high school.  There were also several stations in Spanish.  There was a country station, but this was the era of Billy Ray Cyrus and Garth Brooks, and I hated country music back then.  The best I had was a classic rock station from San Tomas that came in a little scratchy sometimes.  I tell people that I started listening to classic rock when I was in high school, just because the only radio stations I got played rap, country, or Spanish music, and I was looking for something else to listen to.  I knew a lot of the pop-rock and grunge bands that were so popular back then because MTV still played music videos for part of the day, but the only station back home that played that kind of music had shut down a year earlier and now played Spanish music.

About halfway through this particular road trip, after driving through San Tomas and its northern suburbs, we drove over a hill and headed farther inland.  At this point, we could pick up radio stations from the inland part of the state, and I found a station based in Capital City playing good music.

“This is that band with the weird name, isn’t it,” Mom said.

“The Wet Toad Boys?” Dad asked.  “Isn’t that it?”

“Toad The Wet Sprocket,” I corrected.  “The first time I saw that name, I think it was reading Rolling Stone, I thought it was really weird, but then I saw the video for this song on MTV and thought they were pretty good.”

“They are,” Mom said.  “I like this song.”

“I forgot the Grateful Dead tickets,” Dad said.

“What?” Mom asked.

“The tickets,” Dad said, gesturing to an envelope sitting in the center console of the car.  “I was going to go to Jimmy’s yesterday and give him the tickets, since I can’t go.”

“And it’s too late?”

“Show’s tonight.”

“Oh well,” Mom said after a pause.

I yawned; the clock said 7:19am, and we had been on the road for an hour already.  We listened to the good music on this station for the rest of the trip, as we drove through the distant inland suburbs, Sullivan and Los Nogales and Pleasant Creek and Fairview and lots of other little and medium-sized towns.  A little after 8:30, Dad took the exit for 117 North toward Jeromeville and Woodville and asked me what exit to take next.

“Fifth Street,” I said.  “I don’t remember after that.  Let me look it up.”

I pulled several papers out of the large envelope, the one that had come in the mail a few weeks ago, looking for the one that had the directions to the parking garage.  I shuffled the papers around.  I didn’t want the one telling me that I was being considered for a Regents’ Scholarship, which included a minimum of $1000 per year, adjusted based on my finances and those of my family, as well as certain other privileges like getting to register for classes a few days earlier than I would have normally… I didn’t want the one with information about the Interdisciplinary Honors Program… I didn’t want the schedule of events for High Achieving Scholars’ Day on Saturday, February 26… wait, yes I did, because on the back of the schedule of events was a map indicating which parking garage would be available for our use today.  I directed Dad off the freeway onto West Fifth Street and eventually into the parking garage.

Mom and Dad and I walked toward the Memorial Union building.  As soon as I entered the building, I saw a sign-in table.  “Hi!” said an employee at the table with a name tag that said Kate.  “Welcome to the University of Jeromeville!  What’s your name?”

“Greg Dennison,” I said.

Kate looked through her paperwork.  “Greg Dennison,” she said, crossing a name off a list and handing me a sticky name tag with my name and hometown on it.  “From Plumdale High School.  Where is Plumdale, exactly?”

“Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

Kate paused for a second, probably trying to remember where those cities were.  “Oh!  You had a bit of a drive this morning, then.”

“Yeah.  I got out of bed at 5:30.”

“Well, I hope you enjoy your visit to Jeromeville today.  Have you been here before?”

“Once.  Just drove around.”

“Here you go,” Kate said.  She gave me a folder with several papers inside it.  She found a campus map, circled the Memorial Union, and drew an arrow to the courtyard on the other side of the building facing the Quad.  “The first thing you’ll be doing this morning is a tour of the campus.  Meet here at 9:30, and you’ll split off with a student who will be leading the tour.  The schedule for the rest of the day is in the folder.  Until then, you can just stay here and mingle with the other students and staff.”

“Okay.”

“Have a great day here at UJ!”

“Thank you.”

I looked around the room.  A long hallway with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out toward the parking garage opened up to the left of me.  Straight ahead was another room that looked like a restaurant, or maybe more like a cafeteria.  There were stairs leading up and a narrow hallway to the right, with a sign saying that restrooms were in that direction.  I used the men’s room and came back out to the lobby where Kate and the registration tables were.  I glanced through the folder that Kate had given me.  Inside it was, among other things, a list of the names of all of the students who would be attending today’s program.  I glanced through the list looking for any noteworthy names.  I saw one: Teresa Morrison, a student from North Gabilan High School.  A month or so earlier, I was named in an article in the local newspaper for being a National Merit Scholarship Finalist, along with six other local students.  Teresa was one of them.  I saved that article, and Mom bought three extra copies of that day’s newspaper to show to relatives.

“Hi,” a voice I didn’t know said.  “Greg?  I’m Linda Robertson, Director of High Achieving Scholar Outreach.  I’m the one in charge of putting this day together.”

“Hi,” I said, a little nervously, shaking Linda’s hand.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Can I answer any questions you might have?”

“I’m not sure yet.  I’ll let you know.”

“Have you heard about the IHP?  Interdisciplinary Honors Program?”

“Just what you sent me.”

“I think it’ll offer a lot of great opportunities.  You’ll hear a presentation from Dr. McGillicuddy and some alumni of the program later this morning.  Are these your parents?” she asked, gesturing toward Mom and Dad.  I said yes.  Linda went over to make small talk with Mom and Dad as I looked around at some of the other students around me.  The name tags had the students’ hometowns on them.  They were from all over the state, with the majority of them coming from nearby, in the greater Capital City area, and from the suburbs of San Tomas and Bay City.  San Tomas and Bay City were known for having a lot of jobs in technology, so it makes sense that it would have many high achieving students.  The students seemed to come from many different cultural backgrounds as well.  By the time all the students had arrived, probably around 150 to 200 of them, there were probably more Asian students in that room than there were in all of Plumdale High School.

When the time came, we walked through the area that looked like a restaurant and to a courtyard on the opposite side of the Memorial Union building.  A grassy quad lined with mature oak trees lay on the other side of the courtyard.  The tour guide explained that the restaurant area was called the Coffee House, and in addition to coffee it served sandwiches, pizza, and other food, in addition to providing a large common area to study.  We crossed the Quad and walked past the main library on the other side.  This part of the campus was closed to motor vehicles, so I had not seen these buildings during our visit last summer.  The tour guide took us past many classrooms and academic buildings, and pointed out the Arboretum and the creek, which I remembered seeing last year.  Farther west, the tour guide pointed out the South Residential Area, the dormitories next to the dairy that I had seen the year before, but we did not look at them up close.  She showed us the Recreation Pool and the grass berm that Dad had called Thong Bikini Hill.  It was empty, because it was February and the pool was closed for the season.  She pointed out the Recreation Pavilion, a large gym that also held a crowd of several thousand for basketball and other athletic events.  Beyond Rec Pavilion was the North Residential Area, including the building where students in the IHP all lived together, which we would learn more about later.  We headed east again and ended up back at the Quad.  The tour guide directed us into a medium-sized lecture hall in a building next to the Quad, where the next part of our morning would happen.

“Hi,” I heard a voice say.  Turning around, I saw an unfamiliar face introducing herself.  She had a name tag identifying her as a current UJ student, as did several other students walking around the lecture hall mingling with those of us visiting the campus.  She was Asian, thin and of average height, wearing glasses.  “I’m Nicole.  I was in IHP two years ago.”

“I’m Greg.  Nice to meet you.”

“Plumdale?  Where’s that?” Nicole asked, seeing my hometown on my name tag.

“Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.”

“I love Santa Lucia!  It’s so pretty there!  It’s my favorite beach town!”

“Yeah it is.”

“If you could please take a seat, we’re going to get started now,” a voice from the front of the room announced through a microphone.

“It was nice meeting you!” Nicole said.  “Come find me if you have any questions!”

“I will!”

I walked to an open seat, trying not to make eye contact with Mom and Dad, because I knew they would make a big deal about a girl coming up and talking to me.  They always do.  We sat down and listened to the speaker talk about the Interdisciplinary Honors Program.  The speaker introduced herself as Dr. Nancy McGillicuddy, the director of the program.  She explained briefly the way that the program worked, how we would all live in the same dorm, and that we would be required to take one class each quarter that was only open to students in IHP.  We would learn more about the specific classes for the following year in another meeting later that afternoon.

“But now, I want to give a few alumni of the IHP program a chance to speak, to share their own experiences,” Dr. McGillicuddy said.  Nicole, who I had spoken to a few minutes earlier, took the microphone first.  She introduced herself as a junior, a major in women’s studies.  She said that the classes she took the previous year, while satisfying general education requirements, also prepared her for her women’s studies courses and opened her eyes to the oppression that women face everywhere.  I looked at Mom and Dad.  Mom made eye contact with me, and I rolled my eyes.  Mom nodded.

A few minutes later, Nicole ended her presentation, and the next student walked up.  He had a face covered with stubble, and he wore a tie-dye T-shirt, jeans with holes in them, and Birkenstocks.  “Hi,” he said.  “My name is Crunchy, and I’m a fourth-year rock music major.  One thing you can do here at UJ is make an individual major, where you choose certain combinations of classes from different departments and make a plan with an adviser to make them into your own major.  So I made an individual major in rock music.”

That sounded cool.  I was also very curious as to how he acquired the nickname Crunchy.  I never did find out.

“The thing I appreciated the most about being in IHP,” Crunchy continued, “is the friendships I formed with the other students.  I still hang out with those guys all the time.  I’ve had study buddies that I met in IHP.  And two people I was in IHP with are planning their wedding right now.  I’m going to be a groomsman, and I’m playing guitar in the wedding ceremony.  I’ve actually heard a statistic that, over the years, about 10 percent of IHP students have ended up married to each other.”  The crowd chuckled.

After Crunchy finished talking about his lifelong friendships, two other students spoke about their experiences in IHP.  We were dismissed for lunch shortly afterward.

“Maybe you’ll make some lifelong friendships in IHP,” Mom said.

I rolled my eyes.  “Not if they’re a bunch of liberals who major in Women’s Studies.”

“Shh!” Mom said.  “Besides, not everyone is like that.  Nicole was nice, even if she is liberal.  And Crunchy seemed like a good guy.”

“Maybe,” I said.  We followed everyone else and took our place in the lunch line.  Lunch was being served in the room that the tour guide had called the Coffee House.

“He doesn’t look like a wacko liberal,” Mom said, pointing to a well-dressed boy across the room.  “And neither does she,” Mom whispered, gesturing toward the girl standing in front of us with her parents.  She was short, with brown hair, wearing a skirt.  As she turned, I glanced at her name tag.

“It’s Teresa Morrison from North Gabilan,” I whispered to Mom, hoping that Teresa wouldn’t hear.  She didn’t.  But a minute later, Teresa turned around and saw my name tag.  “Hi,” I said nervously.  “I recognize your name.  I saw your name in the Santa Lucia County Star in the article about Merit Scholars.  I’m one too, and I saved that newspaper because it was the first time I had ever had my name in the paper.”

“I remember that article,” she said.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

“You too.”  Teresa seemed shy.  I didn’t say anything more.

The rest of the day was informative.  After lunch, some of this year’s IHP students showed us around the dorm where they all lived.  The thought of having a roommate was a little scary to me.  What if my roommate snored?  What if we didn’t get along?  But it was just one of those things I was going to have to get used to.  And I liked the idea of everyone in the IHP program living together.  Even if there would probably be a lot of liberals in the dorm, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to find anyone at all to be friends with.

The final presentation of the day was with Dr. McGillicuddy and a few of the professors who taught IHP classes.  Each of them shared about the courses we would have to choose from.  Some of the topics definitely seemed more interesting to me than others.  I felt a little overwhelmed at everything by this point, so I found myself kind of starting to tune out.

We got out of the last presentation around 3:30 and walked back toward the car.  “So what did you think?” Mom asked.

“Interesting,” I said.  “I kind of like the idea of having classes that are just for the IHP program.  It’s like I don’t have to do everything on my own all at once.  I can get used to being in college while I still have this small group within the big university to be part of.”

“I liked that too,” Mom said.  “And I think you are going to make lifelong friendships here.”

“I don’t even know if I’ve been accepted yet.”

If they’re inviting you to this program and saying that you have a Regents’ Scholarship for your grades, I’m pretty sure that means you’ll be accepted.”

“I don’t know,” I said pessimistically.  “Things don’t always make sense.”

We got into the car.  Dad saw the Grateful Dead tickets still sitting on the center console.  “We never saw Crunchy again,” he said.

“Who?”

“Crunchy.  The rock music major guy.  I was going to see if he wanted the Grateful Dead tickets.”

“That was a good idea,” I said.  “But I didn’t see him either.”

“So they aren’t going to get used?” Mom asked.

“I guess not.”

“Sorry,” I said.  I hoped Dad wasn’t too upset about the tickets not getting used.

I turned on the radio after we got back on the freeway, watching Jeromeville pass behind me from the car.  It was too early to decide where I was going to end up next year.  I still wanted to see Central Tech up close; Mom had talked about going down there during spring break.  But I definitely liked what I saw at Jeromeville.  I liked the idea of having a smaller group to belong to, and people to be closer with.  Maybe I just would end up making lifelong friends in IHP… even if some of them were liberal extremists.  After all, it’s a university, and university students everywhere have a reputation of being pretty far to the left.

And, no matter what happened, I would have better radio stations to listen to than I did back in Plumdale.

 

December 15, 1993. Prologue II: The first acceptance letter.

I walked up to the spot where I usually sat at lunch, on the grass just outside of the Plumdale High School building, on the side of the building closest to my English classroom.  That was the class I had after lunch.  That day, Melissa and Jason and Kevin and Renee and the others were already there at the usual spot.

“Hi, Greg,” Melissa said.  “How are you?”

“Good,” I replied.  “How are you?”

“I’m doing well.  I’ve been working on an essay I have to write for a scholarship I’m applying to.”

“Which one?” Renee asked.

“It’s for future women doctors.”

“That reminds me,” I said.  “I got accepted to Bidwell State!”

“That’s great!” Melissa said.

“Congratulations!” Jason added.

“Is that your top choice?” Kevin asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said.  “I have relatives in Bidwell, remember, so I know the area.  But I don’t know if I’d fit in at Bidwell.  You know… it’s kind of a party school.”

“Yeah it is.”

“I didn’t expect to hear from anyone so soon.  But at least I know I have a spot somewhere if I want it.  I don’t have to make a decision until spring.”

“Some of the state universities have early acceptance for highly qualified students,” Melissa explained.  “That’s why you heard from them so soon.”

“I’m still waiting to hear from Central Tech and Jeromeville.  Those are probably my top choices.”

“You applied to Walton too, didn’t you?”

“Yeah.  But I won’t get in.  And even if I do, I won’t be able to afford it.  I only applied because Mrs. Martinez told me I should.”

“Why don’t you think you’ll get in?  You have straight As, and great SAT scores.”

“I don’t quite have straight As.  I got four Bs.  And I don’t have anything else to put on my application.  I don’t play any sports, I don’t do any activities, I don’t have any community service–”

“Sure you do.  You’re in Video Production Club with me and Jason and Renee.”

“Just for this year.”

“It’s a new club this year!  None of us has been in it for more than this year!”

“The admissions people at Walton don’t know that.  It looks like a desperate attempt to find something to put on a college application.”

“Give yourself more credit,” Melissa said.  “You’re going to have no trouble getting into college.  Maybe not Walton, because exclusive private schools are really competitive, but I’m sure you’ll have no trouble getting into Jeromeville or Central Tech.”

“I hope so,” I said.  Melissa must never know the real reason I joined Video Production Club, I thought.  Too embarrassing and too pathetic.

The bell rang, and I walked with the others back into the building, since we all had the same English class. I sat through English class, and then through economics afterward, feeling dejected and worthless.  I may have good grades, but I wasn’t the highest ranked student in my class.  And so many other students had so many more useful things to put on their applications.  It wasn’t the end of the world, of course.  I got into Bidwell State.  If I didn’t get in anywhere else, I still had that.  I had a family of second cousins in Bidwell who were always fun to hang out with.  And I had grandparents, and my uncle.  But the thought of not getting into Walton or Jeromeville or Central Tech still made me feel like I just wasn’t good enough.

I was in a better mood by the time I got home, but it lasted until about five seconds after I walked in the door.  As I walked across the living room, I saw a recent issue of Rolling Stone on the top of the stack of magazines that Dad kept on the end table next to the couch.  A one-hit wonder band called Blind Melon, whose career would be cut short a few years later by the vocalist dying of a drug overdose, was on the cover, in the nude with their private parts covered.

Stupid Blind Melon, I thought.  Dark and angry thoughts overwhelmed my mind.

“How was school?” Mom asked.

“Fine, I said.  “I’m going to go upstairs.”

“Are you going to take a nap?”

“Maybe.”  I walked up the stairs and closed the bedroom door behind me.  I lay on the bed, staring out the window at the gray skies, trying to distract the fact that that weird and catchy Blind Melon song was stuck in my head now.  Stupid Jason Lambert ruined that song for me.  Jason asked Melissa on a date to a Blind Melon concert a few months ago, back at the beginning of the school year.  She went out with him, but she doesn’t appear to like me, I thought.  Why?  Jason is my friend, but he’s kind of an annoying asshole too.  I’m not annoying, at least not like Jason.  Of course, Melissa has no way of knowing how I feel about her, because I don’t know how to tell a girl I like her, but still… really?  Jason Lambert?

Despite this, I took a small bit of solace in the fact that Melissa didn’t seem interested in Jason that way.  Other than the Blind Melon concert, they didn’t seem too chummy or couple-like or anything, and there was one day when even I could tell that Melissa was visibly annoyed at Jason.  I saw both of them a lot that school year, which was good because I wanted to know if there was anything going on between them.

I made sure that I would see them often, by joining the Video Production Club.

I continued staring sadly out the window, daydreaming of next year when I wouldn’t be in Plumdale anymore.  Maybe Melissa and I would end up at the same school.  We both applied to Jeromeville, after all.  Maybe she would come visit me in my dorm room and discover that I was a really great guy.  That would be perfect.  And as I drifted off to sleep, the song that Jason ruined for me started running through my head again…