May 20, 1995. Not my typical Saturday.

I nervously left Building C and walked to the other side of the South Residential Area.  It was a warm night, but not warm enough to wear shorts, in my opinion. I wore a t-shirt and jeans.  I kept trying to reassure myself that I didn’t have a reason to be so nervous. They invited me, after all; it’s not like they are suddenly going to reject me.  But what if they do? What if they something weird happens and they never talk to me again? What if I embarrass myself in front of these people, who don’t know me as well as my Building C friends do?

I tried to tell myself I was being ridiculous.  Just because I was going to be hanging out with a different group of people did not necessarily mean that something bad was going to happen.

I got to the main entrance of Building K and saw Megan and Tiffany already in the lobby.  I knocked on the door, and Tiffany let me in. “Hi, Greg,” she said. “Come on in.”

Megan turned around and looked at me, smiling.  “Hey, Greg. We’re just waiting for Maria and Ron.  They said they’d be down in a few minutes. You ready?”

“Yeah,” I said, looking around.  Building K looked just like Building C, except the walls were painted a different color, and there were different flyers on the bulletin board.  Megan was one of the resident advisers for Building K. She wore shorts and sandals with a T-shirt, and her short dark blonde hair still had a few traces of green in it.  She had cut her hair short and dyed it a few months earlier, but it looked like she was growing it a little longer again. Her hair had been somewhere between chin and shoulder length when I met her.  Amy, one of the RAs in my building, had introduced me to Megan in the dining hall during fall quarter, and we had gotten to be friends just from seeing each other around and talking. I wanted to get to know her better, and I wanted to know if she had a boyfriend, and if not, if she was interested in shy younger guys like me.

Earlier this year, my friend Brittany, who lived in Texas and met me online in a chat room, had asked me if I had met any girls in college yet.  I mentioned that I kind of had a crush, but it probably would not work out because she was older. “How much older?” Brittany had asked. “If she’s also a student at your school, then you can’t be more than three or four years apart, right?  That’s nothing. You shouldn’t worry about that, unless this Miss Megan is 40 or something like that.” Brittany was probably right. Megan was only older than me by a year and three days, and that isn’t really a significant age difference. However, I was inexperienced enough with dating and relationships and girlfriends that I still felt way too young to be dating a sophomore.  Megan was going to turn 20 in August. That was a grown-up age. She was almost done being a teenager.

“How’s your weekend going?” Megan asked.

“Good.  I’ve mostly just been studying.  Trying to get it out of the way. One more math midterm on Monday, and that’ll be the last midterm until finals.”

“That midterm is gonna be hard,” Tiffany said.  “Greg’ll probably ace it, though.” I smiled.

“You two are in the same math class, right?” Megan asked.

“Yeah,” I explained.  “I don’t think it’s that hard so far.  But it seems like the quarter is going by fast in general.  The first midterm still feels like it wasn’t that long ago.”

“I know!  This quarter is flying by!”

A girl with dark hair and brown eyes, whom I had seen around the dining commons and met a couple times before, emerged from the stairwell into the lobby with a spiky-haired thin guy.  I assumed this guy must be Ron, since I knew Maria was the girl.

“You guys ready?” Megan asked.

“Let’s go,” Ron replied.

The five of us walked out of Building K, along the bike path past Kent Hall and the barns, turning left at the chemistry building, and getting into a line at the large outdoor steps leading to 199 Stone, the largest lecture hall on campus.  The room held around 400 students, and that lecture hall was the only room in Stone Hall. The front of the room was one building story lower with the rows pitched downward as they would be in a theater or stadium, and a door on the right side of the back wall connected to the basement of the chemistry building, which was right next to Stone Hall.  The room number 199 was chosen to be consistent with the numbering of the nearby rooms in the chemistry building.

On weekends, a division of the Associated Students organization called Campus Cinema used 199 Stone as a movie theater, showing movies that had been in theaters a few months earlier but were usually not available to rent on VHS video yet.  (Those are those giant cassette tapes for watching movies at home, before DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and streaming video were invented.) A different movie would show every day, and tickets only cost three dollars.

About an hour ago, I sat down with Megan, Tiffany, and Maria at dinner.  They said that they were going to watch the movie Quiz Show at 199 Stone and invited me along.  I said sure. I needed to get out and do something tonight, and more importantly, this was an opportunity to hang out with Megan.  I had also seen commercials for this movie when it was released last fall, and it looked intriguing. The movie was based on a true story, about a television game show from the 1950s with outcomes that were rigged by the producers.

On the walk to 199 Stone, Maria and Ron were acting very much like a couple, holding hands and kissing a few times.  Does that mean I was Megan’s date? Or Tiffany’s date? Of course not, but I kind of wished I could be Megan’s date. I was walking in the back of our group of five, and I realized at one point that I had been staring at Megan’s butt and legs in front of me for long enough that Tiffany might have noticed.  I looked up, hoping that she hadn’t.

After we bought our tickets, and Ron bought popcorn, the five of us sat down toward the top of the room, in the right section.  The room was filling up, but we were still able to find five seats together; I sat between Megan and Tiffany.

One of my favorite parts of Campus Cinema was that they showed an old cartoon before the main movie, like movie theaters of my parents’ and grandparents’ time would do.  Tonight, it was the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he has a feud with an opera singer, ending with Bugs pretending to be the conductor at the singer’s concert and making him hold a long note until he runs out of breath and the stage collapses.  I had seen that one many times over the years; I grew up on old Warner Bros. and Disney cartoons.

As I watched Quiz Show, I felt like this movie was exposing a dark underbelly of the game show industry.  The producers of the show in the movie entice their returning champion to lose on purpose, because a new contestant is presumed to be more likable to audiences.  In order to keep the new contestant on the show, they provided him with the questions and answers in advance, and the producers manipulated the air conditioning and ventilation around the contestants to make them sweat and experience physical discomfort.

At one point during the movie, Megan crossed her legs, and I could feel her crossed leg inadvertently brush up against mine a few times.  I looked up one of those times. “Sorry,” Megan whispered, and moved her leg away from me. I didn’t want that. I kind of liked her brushing up against me.  But I said nothing. That would be inappropriate, and probably a little creepy. Also, someone would probably find a way to make fun of me for it, just like in 8th grade when Paul Dickinson figured out who I liked and told the whole school.

I hoped that the game shows I enjoyed watching as a child in the 1980s had not been fixed like the one in the movie; that would be disappointing.  I do remember as a child watching an episode of Press Your Luck where one contestant went on a ridiculous winning streak, always stopping the spinner on the best spot on the board and never getting a Whammy.  I suspected that the contestant himself had somehow figured out how to beat the system, but I did not know if the show’s producers were involved. Hopefully the show was not fixed, because after the incident that the movie described, new laws were passed to prohibit fixing of prizes on television shows.  However, television never tells the full story of what is really happening. I would learn years later that the contestant I watched on Press Your Luck had cracked the code on his own.  He was a compulsive gambler and get-rich-quick artist who lost much of his game show money in a robbery and the rest in a bad investment, and he would eventually die alone, broke, and fairly young.

On the way home from the movie, Megan asked, “Are you guys both going home for the summer?”  The question was directed to me and Tiffany; Maria and Ron were walking more slowly, arm in arm and no longer in earshot of us.

“Yeah,” Tiffany said.  “I’m probably not going to be doing anything.  Maybe getting a job.”

“My mom said she has a job for me,” I said.  “Someone she knows works at a bookstore, and they’re looking to hire someone part time.”

“That’ll be good,” Megan said.  “You’re from, where was it? Somewhere near Santa Lucia, right?”

“Yeah.  Plumdale.”

“And you’re from Ashwood?”

“Yes,” Tiffany replied.  I realized that I had known Tiffany since January but had no idea where she was from until this moment.  Ashwood was at the far end of the Valley, about as far away as Plumdale but inland, to the southeast, whereas Plumdale was more due south.

“I’m going to miss all my friends here,” I said.  “I want to get everyone’s address so I can write. Or email, for people who have computers at home.”

“Definitely,” Tiffany said.  “Give me your address before the end of the year.”

“I will.”

“I’ll be here taking summer school,” Megan added, “so I’ll have email.”

“Great.  I’ll write you.”

By this time, we had returned to Building K.  “Thanks for coming with us, Greg,” Megan said.

“Thanks for inviting me!  It was a good movie.”

“I know.  I’ll see you around.  Have a good weekend, OK?”

“I will.”

Megan hugged me, and I smiled.  Tiffany hugged me too. I turned around toward Building C, turning back one last time to wave to my friends from Building K as they entered the building.

 

As I climbed the stairs toward Room 221, I could hear the muffled sound of music playing somewhere else in the building.  It seemed to be coming from directly above, from the third floor on my end of the building. Instead of going to my room, I continued up to the third floor, curious to see what was going on.  I began to hear muffled voices along with the muffled music, as if many people were being loud trying to be heard over the music.

When I was on the landing halfway between the second and third floor, the third floor door opened, and the music and voices became louder.  Gina Stalteri and Karen Francis walked through the door. Karen was giggling and leaning on Gina, having a hard time standing on her own. She was holding a can of Coors Light beer.

“Hey, Greg,” Gina said, noticing me on the landing.  “Come on up.”

“Greg!” Karen shouted, giggling.  “I’ve never been drunk before!” She tried to step forward but staggered to the ground instead.

I continued walking up the stairs toward them and walked into the third floor hallway, my mind still processing what I was seeing.  This appeared to be a party. My first college party. I had never been to an actual party like this, but I had seen parties on TV and in movies, and this looked exactly what I imagined a party to look like.

At each end of each floor, the hallway widened in front of the last room on each side.  The hallways on the second and third floor opened to a balcony at the end of the building, like the balcony on which Taylor Santiago had been sitting when he met my parents, but that was at the opposite end of the building.  A few months ago, someone had hung strings of beads where I was now, over the hallway at the point just past the door to the stairs, so that one had to pass through the beads in order to get to rooms 322 through 325. Brendan Lowe in room 322 had started referring to himself and his neighbors at the end of the third floor as “The Bead People.”  Derek Olvera in room 324 had put a sign on his door proclaiming that “Cool people live here.”

  The door to Brendan’s room was open, and the music seemed to be coming from there.  I didn’t recognize the song. Brendan listened to a lot of weird, really dark music that I was never exposed to in Plumdale.  I peeked my head into room 322, where Brendan, his roommate Will, Jenn from the first floor, and two guys I didn’t recognize were sitting, talking, and drinking something from plastic cups.

“Hey, Greg,” Brendan said, pointing to a case of Coors Light in cans.  “You want one?”

“No, thanks,” I said.  I stood in the doorway observing their conversation for a few minutes.  I didn’t understand what they were talking about, so I went back into the hallway and walked around all the people sitting against the wall drinking beer.

Room 324, where cool people supposedly lived, was also open.  Derek, a tall guy with reddish-blonde hair, sat on his bed. He had his arms around a dark-haired girl named Stephanie who lived at the other end of the third floor; I had seen them together a lot lately.  Pat Hart sat on the other bed. The other bed belonged to Jared, the guy who often played Scrabble in the common room, but I did not see Jared at this party.

“Hey, Greg,” Derek said when I walked in.

“Hey,” Stephanie added.  “What’s up?”

“Just looking around,” I said.

“Take a seat if you want,” Derek offered, gesturing toward an empty chair.  I sat. Derek lifted his leg and farted. Pat laughed. Stephanie gave him a disgusted look.  I chuckled.

Karen walked into the room.  “I’m back!” she said. She attempted to sit with Pat on Jared’s bed, but fell over on her side instead.  Pat picked her up and kissed her deeply for quite a long time. When they finished, Karen looked up and announced to the room, “This is the first time I’ve been drunk!”  She had told me this same thing just five minutes earlier. “Nate said he’s bringing more beer,” Karen continued.

“Good!” Stephanie shouted.

“I’m going to go see who else is here,” I said.

“See you around, Greg,” Derek said.  Stephanie waved. Pat and Karen were making out and did not seem to notice that I was leaving.

A voice coming from Brendan’s stereo started singing something like “bow down before the one you serve.”  This was still not the type of music I was most familiar with, but I had heard this song before, unlike the song that was playing before.  I thought this song was by that band Nine Inch Nails. Brendan really liked them, as did Skeeter. I didn’t see Skeeter at this party.

I stood outside of Derek’s room in the wide part of the hallway at the end of the building.  A few people were sitting there on desk chairs taken from nearby bedrooms, and some other people were sitting on the floor.  Mike Adams and his girlfriend Kim, Dan Woodward, Schuyler Jenkins, Tracy Lee, Yu Cheng, and two guys I did not know who did not live here sat talking.  Mike was telling a story loudly, interrupting to laugh every few sentences. Others laughed as well. I missed the beginning of the story, so I wasn’t sure what it was about.  I saw Pat and Gina come through the beads with a case of Budweiser cans, but then I realized it wasn’t Pat because he was busy sucking face with Karen in Derek’s room. This was Nate, Pat’s twin brother who lived in a different building.  “Hey, Greg,” Nate said when he saw me. “You want one?”

“No, thank you.”

Nate went into Brendan’s room to put the beer down, and then into Derek’s room where his brother was.  I felt something brush against my leg; I looked down and saw Schuyler lean her head on my leg, from a position of sitting against the wall.  “Hi,” she said, looking back up at me.

“Hi,” I replied.

“Having fun?”

“I just got here.  I was watching the movie Quiz Show at 199 Stone with some friends from another building.”

“Did you like it?”

“I did.  It’s interesting.”

“Really?  I’ve seen it before.  I thought it was boring.”

“I grew up watching game shows.  It was fascinating to see the dark side of the game show world.”

“I just thought it was dumb.  Not my thing.”

Mike was laughing loudly again at something, and everyone reacted as if he had been the funniest human being alive.  Schuyler took another sip of beer. “I think I’m going to go back downstairs now,” I said.

“No!” Schuyler replied.  “Don’t leave.” She put her arms around my legs, giggling.  I carefully stepped out of her tenuous, drunken grasp.

“This party isn’t my thing.  Just like how the movie isn’t your thing.”

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah.  I’m fine.”

“Come back later if you want.”

“I might.”

Before I walked into the stairwell, I looked at the door to room 321, where Amy, the RA, lived.  On the small bulletin board on her door, she had put a piece of paper telling people where to find her, with a push pin indicating where she was.

Amy is

  • Here.  Come on in!
  • Here, but please knock first.
  • Studying hard.  Please do not disturb.
  • In class.
  • Eating at the DC.
  • At the Help Window.
  • Somewhere else on campus.
  • Off campus.
  • Not in Jeromeville.

The push pin was next to “Not in Jeromeville.”  Amy must have gone home for the weekend, which explains why the Bead People had chosen tonight to throw a party right next to the RA’s room.

I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of Karen emerging from Derek’s room.  “I’ve never been drunk before!” she announced to the people sitting in the hallway. I turned around and walked back down the stairs to the second floor.  It was ten o’clock at night, and quiet hours started at eleven. If this party didn’t shut down in an hour, I would not be getting any sleep that night. I knocked on the door of room 215, where Gurpreet, the other RA, lived.  He did not answer either. I was not surprised; of course the party would happen when there was no one in charge in the building.

I went back to room 221 and sat on my bed, angry.  How did this happen? I knew no one here was 21 years old; who bought the beer?  Did they have fake IDs? Did they have older friends buy it for them? Maybe one of the other people at the party who was not from this building was older.  And what about Karen? She was drunk enough to be staggering, and she was not even a legal adult. She had skipped a year in elementary school and graduated from high school early, and she had just turned 17 a month ago.  In health class in high school, we learned about drugs and alcohol, and everyone kept talking about how kids could get drugs and alcohol anyway even though they were illegal. Where? How? Who were these kids? Everyone seemed to know how to get drugs and alcohol except for me, and it made me angry.  I had no desire to do drugs or drink alcohol, but it made me angry nevertheless because these people had some kind of secret knowledge about how to flout authority that I did not have, and they felt no remorse for doing something illegal and unsafe.

Sometimes I wished I had gotten invited to more parties in high school.  That way, I would know when and where kids were getting drunk, breaking the law, and I could call the police on them and get them in trouble, and justice would be served.  Now I finally had my opportunity, and the people in charge were gone. It was frustrating. What should I do now? Should I call the police? Should I go to the Help Window and tell whichever RA was on duty tonight?  Maybe I should call Megan. She was another authority figure who might be able to do something about this. And that would give me another chance to talk to her.

As I sat on the bed thinking about what to do, I realized that I knew all along what the right decision would be.  I did nothing. I got over it and let it go. If the Bead People and the others who went to that party wanted to make poor choices, that was their life.  No one was hurting me, and a bunch of college freshmen drinking cheap beer and playing loud weird music is not exactly the greatest threat to America’s freedom and well-being.  The police might not even consider it a high enough priority to respond. And these people were my friends. I had come a long way to be at this point in my life where I actually had friends, and I didn’t want to ruin that by being a stickler for the rules.  Following authority is important, but so is friendship.

I didn’t go back upstairs to that party that night.  But I also didn’t report them to any authority figures.  I just sat quietly in my room playing around on the computer.  I played Tetris. I got on IRC chat and looked for girls to talk to.  I played around with this new thing I had gotten recently called Netscape, where I could look at these things called Web sites that had text and pictures to read.  If the text was underlined, I could click on it and a new page would open. The pictures took several seconds to load, but it was still more interesting than the text-based Internet I had been using all year.  That night I kept myself busy looking up Pink Floyd lyrics and album artwork. And I was far enough away from the party that the noise didn’t keep me awake. I never did find out what happened the rest of the night at the party on the third floor.  I don’t know if anyone got in trouble. And it was not my business. I slept just fine that night.

May 18, 1995. The Coventry Greenbelt.

I parked my bike outside of Wellington Hall, a rectangular brick building which consisted only of classrooms used for many different subjects, and headed to Room 17 in the basement for my chemistry discussion.  Chemistry 2B was a large class of around four hundred students held in 199 Stone Hall, the largest lecture hall on campus in the 1990s. Labs and discussions met in smaller groups of 24 students, all from the same lecture section, led by a teaching assistant who was a graduate student from the chemistry department.

The desks in Wellington 17, as was the case with most classrooms at UJ, were just chairs with a little retractable piece of wood that a student could pull up and use as a hard surface for writing.  I sat in a chair, pulled the desk up into place, and put my head down on it with my eyes closed. I was tired. I had been up for a while. I started class on Thursday at 10:00 in the morning, but I woke up early enough to be ready for class at 9, because every other day I had a 9:00 class.  It was now 9:57, and I was ready to go back to sleep because I had not slept well the night before.

A couple minutes later, I heard someone sit next to me and begin to speak.  “Hey, Greg! Are you okay?” I recognized the voice; it was Marissa, my lab partner.

I opened my eyes and looked up.  “I didn’t sleep well. The fire alarm went off at 2:30, and it took me almost an hour to get back to sleep.”

“What? Fire? Where?”

“My dorm.  Building C in the South Area.  We all had to evacuate.”

“What was on fire?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t think anything was on fire.  There wasn’t any smoke or anything, at least I couldn’t see anything on fire.”

“So what set it off?”

“I don’t know.”

“Weird.”

“Oh yeah.  It was hilarious.  I was climbing down the stairs, and Amy, the RA from the third floor, she goes, ‘If you see or smell anything strange, let me know.’  My friend Rebekah, she’s also on the third floor, she says, ‘I see and smell Amy. Should I let you know?’”

“She actually said that?” Marissa asked, laughing.  “Oh my gosh!”

“Yeah!  She’s hilarious.  We had the same math class fall quarter, and the professor posted grades by ID number.  She figured out which one was me, because she knew what I got on all the other midterms, so she knew what I got on the final before I did.”

“No way.”

“And she told me, ‘Next quarter, I’m going to freak out just like you did, and maybe then I’ll get 99 percent just like you.’”

“That’s funny!  Did you freak out on your math final?”

“I think she just meant how I was really stressed about the final, but I probably didn’t have to be, since I did so well.  It was my first final here, so I didn’t know what to expect.”

“That makes sense.  Are we getting the chem midterm back today?”

“I think so.  I don’t think I did very well on this one.  At least not as well as I usually do.”

In Chemistry 2B, the TA passed back the midterms and took time in the discussion to answer questions about the midterm.  It was not like Physics 9A, where I had to get my own test paper off of a shelf. A few minutes after class started, the TA began passing back the midterms.  I nervously looked at mine when I got it.

86, out of 100.

Not bad like that physics midterm from a few weeks earlier, but not as well as I usually do.  I was a little disappointed in myself, but not panicking.

Marissa got her midterm back shortly after I did.  She looked through it excitedly. “This is the best I’ve ever done on a chem midterm!” she said.

“Mine was the worst for me.  But good job.”

“I got 86!  What did you get?”

My brain took a second to process what I had just heard.  This certainly put things in perspective. “86,” I said sheepishly.

“Really?” Marissa asked.  I showed her my midterm. “My best score is your worst score.  That’s kind of sad.”

“No it isn’t,” I said.  “It puts things in perspective.  Maybe I shouldn’t worry so much about always being perfect.”

“You really shouldn’t.  86 isn’t bad. And you’re still going to ace the final, probably.”

“I don’t know.  We’ll see. But you’re right.  86 isn’t bad. Good job.”

“You too.”

 

I had one more class later that day, and when that was done, I got back to the dorm shortly after 2:00.  The chalkboard in the stairwell still said COMMUNITY ASSESSMENT MEETING. The resident advisers, Gurpreet and Amy, had not erased this announcement yet.  The meeting was two days ago; we had discussed how things had been going, and Gurpreet and Amy had given us information about procedures for moving out, which we would be doing in four weeks.

I sat down to check email, and I started to nod off while I was reading, so I turned off the computer and lay down for a nap.  The fire alarm and evacuation last night had thrown off my sleeping, and I had had trouble staying awake in both of my classes.  I was done for the day, though, and although I had math homework due tomorrow, I was in no shape to do it now. I closed my eyes and drifted off.

When I woke up, I could tell that I had been asleep.  I checked my watch; it was almost 4:00. The sun was out, and it was fairly warm today.  I had been wearing jeans this morning, but by now it was warm enough to wear shorts. It felt like a good day to be outside.

After I changed into shorts, I got on my bike.  I headed south toward the Arboretum and the Lodge, then I turned east toward the law school and Marks Hall.  I had done this bike ride several other times in my year at UJ. The long, narrow, park-like Arboretum, following a dry creek bed which had been converted into a very long lake, was a peaceful oasis in the middle of a busy campus.  Just past Marks Hall, a large grassy area sloped gently down to the waterway, which widened into a more lake-like shape, and I saw several students lying on the grass reading. I was not the only one who felt like being outside today, apparently.

Near the east end of the Arboretum, I turned on a path that led to the intersection of First and B Streets downtown.  I continued north on B Street, past Central Park and through an old residential neighborhood. This was all familiar territory; I had done this ride a few times before and driven parts of B Street in the car.

B Street ended at the intersection with 15th Street.  In front of me was Jeromeville Community Park, the largest park in the city, which bordered the Veterans Memorial Hall, the public library, a public pool, Jeromeville High School, an elementary school, and the Jeromeville Arts Center.  The Veterans Memorial Hall was visible in front of me along 15th Street, with a bike path to its left. I had never noticed that path before. I crossed the street and continued north on that path.

I rode past Veterans Memorial Hall and the public swimming pool on my right, with part of the parking lot for the high school on my left.  Behind this I rode past tennis courts and soccer and baseball fields. I could see ahead that this path led to an overpass crossing Coventry Boulevard.  I had driven under that overpass before, but I never knew anything about the path on top, where it came from or where it led.

On the other side of the overpass, north of Coventry Boulevard, the path led down into a park.  I saw backs of homes and yards and apartment buildings, and streets adjoining the park on the left and the right.  A number of short paths led to adjoining streets, one leading back to Coventry Boulevard. The path I rode on continued north, and I also noticed a long path to the west which, like the one I was on, continued for some distance instead of ending at a street.  A sign attached to a lamppost said “COVENTRY GREENBELT AREA 8.”

I chose to continue north.  I rode past grassy areas and many different kinds of trees, past a playground and tennis courts.  The path turned to the right and then left again, outside of the park and into a very different landscape.  The path was straight, with a large vacant lot on the left, and on the right, fences separating the path from backyards and short paths branching off to the ends of culs-de-sac connected to some unseen street to the east.

After three such paths leading to other streets, the path I was on crossed a street at a crosswalk.  On the other side of the street, fenced backs of yards and paths branching to other streets now lined both sides of the path, with a thin strip of landscaping on either side of the path.  I had never seen a neighborhood like this before, with dead-end streets connecting to a continuous bicycle and pedestrian path. Jeromeville advertises itself as being a bicycle-friendly community, and apparently in Jeromeville this slogan means more than just bike lanes on major streets and parts of the university campus being closed to cars.  This part of Jeromeville, a fairly new subdivision, seemed to be constructed entirely around bicycle travel.

About a quarter mile after I crossed that street, the bicycle path entered another large park.  This one had a small playground to the left of the path, with soccer fields beyond. On my right, to the east, was a pond, with rushes and reeds and bushes growing along its shore.  A boardwalk extended about a hundred feet to the right, with some kind of informational sign at the end, probably about wildlife or plants or something like that. Straight ahead of me was another smaller pond, and the path curved to the right between the two ponds. I continued along the path as it curved northeast, then abruptly ended at a street, with the northern tip of the large pond to my right, an office building to my left, and a residential neighborhood across the street straight ahead from me.

I looked at the name on the street sign across from me.  This was the corner of Salmon Drive and Andrews Road. I knew where I was now.

Andrews Road is a major street running north-south on the UJ campus and in west-central Jeromeville, parallel to Highway 117 about half a mile east.  In the northernmost part of the city of Jeromeville, Andrews Road curves through recently constructed residential areas onto a more east-west route, ending at G Street a couple hundred feet to the right of where I was now.  I was very close to the northernmost point of the city of Jeromeville, where the geography changes from residential neighborhoods to the flat farmland that Arroyo Verde County is known for.

I turned around and headed back to the small playground on the other side of the ponds, but instead of going back the way I came, I rode to the west along the soccer fields.  A sign called this part of the path COVENTRY GREENBELT AREA 3. I had seen other signs like this along the path I had ridden, the numbers changing each time. I was, and still am to this day, unsure if the numbers have a pattern or what they mean.

At the end of this path, I turned south on another path, through more numbered areas of the Coventry Greenbelt, again with fences separating me from backyards on both sides.  I crossed a street, and the greenbelt widened, with the houses on either side of me farther apart. The path curved a bit. I saw a statue of a dog near the sign saying that I was in COVENTRY GREENBELT AREA 5. I rode through grassy areas spotted with trees, continuing south.  Another path and greenbelt branched off to my right, and as I passed a playground, yet another path and greenbelt branched off to my left. I continued south, into a thick grove of pine trees, the ground covered with dead needles. I made a mental note that I had a lot more exploring to do in the future, to figure out where those other paths went.

I entered a tunnel under a street and emerged at Coventry Boulevard, where the pine trees suddenly cleared.  I knew this must be Coventry Boulevard. I was pretty sure there were no other four-lane divided streets in this part of Jeromeville.  And if this was Coventry Boulevard, the tunnel I just emerged from must have crossed under Alvarez Avenue. My apartment for next year was on Alvarez Avenue, but farther west, to my right.

I turned right on Coventry and left on Andrews Road, back toward campus.  When I got back to Building C, about ten minutes after emerging from the tunnel, I locked my bike and entered the building from the back, into the stairwell across from the lobby.  Someone had changed the announcement about the COMMUNITY ASSESSMENT MEETING by selectively erasing letters. It now said COMMUNITY ASS EETING. I laughed out loud.

“Greg!” I heard a voice say.  “What’s so funny?”

I looked down.  Sarah Winters, who had asked the question, and Krista Curtis were sitting on the stairs talking.  One of the quirks of university dormitory culture is that people can sit and socialize just about anywhere.  Sometimes that was annoying, as I discovered two months ago when I was awakened from my sleep, but other times, like now, it gave me socializing opportunities that rarely ever happened at any other point in my life.

I pointed at COMMUNITY ASS EETING on the chalkboard.  Sarah groaned, and Krista rolled her eyes.

“You’re all sweaty!” Krista said.

“I was on a bike ride.”  I looked at my watch. “I’ve been gone for about 45 minutes.”

“Wow!  Where’d you go?”

“Through the Arboretum to downtown, then up B Street to that park by the high school.  There’s a path that crosses over Coventry Boulevard and leads to a greenbelt. Like a bunch of interconnected parks behind the neighborhoods in North Jeromeville.”

“Cool!”

“I’ve heard about the greenbelts,” Sarah said.  “I’ve never been there, though. Was it nice?”

“Yeah.  And it’s a great day to be outside.  I love this weather.”

“I know!  It feels like summer!”

“I have four weeks left to enjoy this weather.  And now I have a new place to explore on my bike.”

“What do you mean, four weeks?” Krista asked.

“After that I’m going home for the summer.”

“Why can’t you enjoy summer at home?”

“Plumdale doesn’t have this weather.  We get coastal fog at night sometimes, and it doesn’t burn off until around noon.  And it doesn’t get as hot as it does here.”

“I didn’t know that.”

“It’s hard to believe we’re almost done with the school year,” Sarah said.

“I know,” I replied.  “It seemed to go by fast.”

“Are you looking forward to summer?”

“I’m not sure.  I’m looking forward to no classes, but I’m going to miss all of you guys.”

“Me too!  You’ll have to write to me.”

“I will.  I hope to write a lot of letters this summer.  I’ll try to get email over the summer too.”

“I won’t have email at home,” Sarah said.

“Me either,” Krista added.

“I feel really sweaty and stinky,” I said.

“Eww!” Sarah replied, laughing jokingly.

“I’m going to go upstairs and take a shower.  I’ll see you guys later.”

“We’ll probably be going to dinner around 6.  Want to come with us?” Krista asked.

“Sure!”

 

That day changed my life, to some extent.  I went for several more bike rides in the Coventry Greenbelt and other adjacent greenbelts and parks over the next few weeks, exploring more of North Jeromeville.  I found a greenbelt in West Jeromeville about a week later, and one in South Jeromeville shortly after I moved back sophomore year. Today, a quarter-century later, I have never gotten out of the habit of exploring on my bike.  When I was in my early 30s, I once told someone about a 25-mile bike ride I had done one Saturday. My friend asked me how I got into cycling, and I said it just kind of happened by default when I lived in Jeromeville, and I never really stopped.  I did not ride my bike very far when I was growing up in Plumdale, because Plumdale is hilly and can be cold at times. This is not exactly the best environment for cycling. It turned out that the upcoming summer of 1995 was the last summer in which I would spend the majority of the time in Plumdale, although that was not entirely related to weather or cycling.

I currently live in the suburbs south of Capital City.  There are a few greenbelts around here, but not an extensive network of them like I found in Jeromeville.  (Of course, Jeromevillians pay higher property taxes as a result, so there’s that.) I still do a lot of exploring on my bicycle.  Once every year, I return to my cycling roots, riding my bike 28 miles from my house across the Drawbridge to Central Park in Jeromeville, where I take a break to eat the lunch I packed.  After resting for a while, I continue riding around Jeromeville, riding through some of the greenbelts, as well as part of the Arboretum and my happy place along Hawkins Road. By mid-afternoon, my clothes are covered in salt left behind by dried sweat, my butt hurts, and I am exhausted, so I then take my bike on a bus to Capital City and on another bus back to my own neighborhood.  My total distance for the day on one of these trips totals between 50 and 55 miles.

My bike isn’t anything fancy or expensive.  For that matter, my bike isn’t the same bike I had on that day when I first explored the Coventry Greenbelt; I got a new bike in 1999 and another one in 2008, when the previous bikes broke beyond repair.  And I’m not in great physical shape; I love junk food too much for that.  But cycling has provided hundreds of hours and thousands of miles of outdoor recreation for me over the years. I’m writing this in January of 2020; it is cold, and I haven’t been on my bike in a few days. I don’t ride much this time of year, but I really need to. Maybe I’ll get to do that this weekend.

greenbeltCoventry Greenbelt Area 5, taken in 2016 the first time I rode my bike from South Capital County to Jeromeville.

May 6, 1995. Sardines in the Death Star.

In the nine decades between the founding of the University of Jeromeville and my arrival on campus, enrollment had grown from 112 to over 21,000.  During that time, as the university added more departments and fields of study, many new buildings have appeared, and some old buildings have been torn down.  Because of this, some people have criticized the UJ campus for its lack of unifying architectural style.

That’s not me.  I’m not some people.  I don’t know much about architecture, and I think the different styles and time periods of the buildings on campus make it more interesting.

A huge concrete monstrosity known as the Social Sciences Building stood out the most architecturally.  It had not yet been named after an important person in the history of UJ, as most other buildings had. (As of this writing, late 2019, it still has not.)  Social Sciences was the newest building on campus, having just opened at the start of this school year. The building had one large lecture hall, room 1100, the second largest lecture hall on campus.  (Today, it is the fourth largest.) The building also contained three other classrooms and many academic offices, including the departments of economics, history, political science, and sociology.

The extremely modern building felt very out of place in its location at the east end of campus between the Memorial Union and A Street, surrounded on three sides by the oldest parts of campus and on the fourth side by the oldest part of the city of Jeromeville.  For that matter, the building felt very out of place on planet Earth. Students had already given it a much more fitting nickname: The Death Star, after the giant moon-sized battleship in the movie Star Wars.  The lower levels of the Social Sciences Building, with steel and concrete towers rising five stories high, remind students of the scene from the movie where Luke flies through the canyon of metal on his way to destroy the Death Star.

I had spent the entire day studying and doing homework.  After dinner, I walked back from the dining hall to Building C, my dormitory, ready for a fun-filled Saturday night full of reading for pleasure, flirting with girls on IRC chats, and maybe Tetris or SimCity.  I hoped that I might have a Saturday night filled with actual fun and doing things with friends. My hope came true this time, as soon as I walked into the common room.

Taylor Santiago, Sarah Winters, and Pete Green were sitting in the common room.  “Greg!” Taylor said. “I was just looking for you.”

“Yes?” I asked.  I didn’t know why he had been looking for me, and I wasn’t sure if it was for a good reason or a bad one.

“We’re gonna play Sardines in the Death Star.  You wanna come?”

“Sure,” I said.  “What’s Sardines?”

“You’ve never played Sardines?” Sarah asked.

“No,” I replied.  I tended to get that often.  Someone would find out about some normal childhood experience that I didn’t have, and their reaction would come across as incredulous because of it.  It always made me feel sensitive about my deprived and sheltered childhood, although on the bright side, having new experiences as an adult makes me appreciate them more.

“It’s kind of like hide and seek,” Sarah continued.  “But only one person hides. The rest of us all look for the one person and then cram into that hiding space like sardines in a can.”

“I see.  So hide and seek, but when I find the person who is it, I hide with them?”

“Yeah!  You got it.”

“I’m in.  Who else are we waiting for?”

“Krista, Liz, Ramon, and Charlie.  Danielle and Caroline and Jason said maybe.”

“We’re not going now,” Taylor said.  “Meet down here at 9. It’ll be pretty dark by then.  Does that sound good?”

“Sure.  I’ll see you guys then.”

 

A few hours later, Taylor, Pete, Charlie, Sarah, Krista, Liz, Ramon, Caroline, and I were walking east toward the Bike Barn and the chemistry building.  Apparently they didn’t know the shortcut through the temporary buildings north of the dorms, because that’s the way I would have gone. I hadn’t exhaustively studied which way was actually quicker, though.

“Have you guys ever been to the Death Star at night?” Ramon asked.  “Winter quarter I had a class there at 5pm, and I stayed after class to talk to the professor one time.  I got lost getting back to where I parked my bike. It was kind of scary.”

“Everything about that building is kind of scary,” Pete said.

“I’ve never really been inside the building,” I said.  “I’ve never had a class or office hours or anything there.”

“That might be a good thing,” Taylor said, laughing.

It was 9:10 PM, according to my watch.  The sun sets fairly late this time of year, but the last glow of twilight was just fading by the time we made our walk across campus to the Death Star.  It was a clear night, and a few bright stars were mostly visible despite the glare of streetlights and the occasional light shining from within a building.  The campus was relatively quiet as we walked around the chemistry building, in front of the library, and diagonally across the Quad, occasionally seeing a student walking or cycling past us.

We stopped in front of the door to room 1100, the large lecture hall, across the street from the main campus bookstore.  “Give me five minutes to hide,” Taylor said. “Does anyone have a watch?”

“I do,” I replied.  “And it has a timer on it.”

“Perfect!”

“Ready?” I said as I set the timer on my watch for five minutes.

“Ready,” Taylor said.

“Go!” I started the watch as Taylor walked around the far corner of the lecture hall and disappeared into a corridor between the lecture hall and another part of the building.  The others made small talk.

“How is physics class, Greg?” Sarah asked at one point.  “You said you didn’t do well on the midterm, right?”

“It’s going okay,” I said.  “I’ve been studying harder. I don’t think I gave the class my best effort at first, because I expected it to be easy like high school physics, but it’s not.”

“That’s good.  I’m sure you’ll do better next time.”

A few minutes later, my watch beeped.  “Time to find Taylor,” I said. I switched my watch back to the time display; it was 9:22 PM.

“Let’s go!” Ramon shouted.  He and Liz went in the same direction that Taylor had gone when he hid; Charlie, Krista, and Caroline walked north along the street and turned along the north end of the building; and Pete, Sarah, and I walked along the south end of the lecture hall.  This path descended a long stairway, curving slightly to the left, next to a terraced area that resembled very large stairs. At the bottom was a courtyard, with doors leading to the stage side of the lecture hall, one story below ground level; across from the lecture hall was a large wall of tall glass panels with three doors leading to classrooms.  Beyond this, a large five-story section of building crossed over the below-ground area, with the ground where I stood forming a sort of wide tunnel under the building.

“I guess we need to split up eventually,” Sarah said.

“Yeah,” I replied.  Pete and Sarah continued through the tunnel, and I climbed up the terrace back to ground level and turned in the direction away from where I started, with the Social Sciences building on my left and Younger Hall on my right (ironically named, since it was more than 50 years old, although it was named after a person, not descriptively).

In the name “Social Sciences Building,” the word “building” is used somewhat loosely.  The building was actually a complex of jagged concrete and steel structures both rising from the ground, at varying angles and heights, and embedded into the ground below street level.  Some parts of the complex looked like one detached room, and other parts were soaring towers up to five levels above ground. There appeared to be no main hallways or walkways and little consistent patterns to the room numbering, although the thousands digit of the room number did indicate the height above ground level, similarly to other buildings on campus.  

I walked past the five-story tower toward another five-story tower that rose almost, but not quite, parallel to the first one.  I was at ground level, but on the other side of me was a low wall overlooking a courtyard below ground level, giving the illusion that I was above ground level.  Below me were bushes in planters, and a bridge to my right connected to another building. I crossed that bridge and then climbed down a set of stairs to the courtyard below.

I walked around looking for hiding places.  I looked behind trash cans and under benches.  I found a wall with deeply recessed windows where a college student of small stature like Taylor could hide; he was not hiding in any of those.  I turned a corner into a corridor between two concrete walls that led into a locked door. No hiding places there and no Taylor. I came back the way I came and then turned to walk under the five story tower.  I figured I must be close to A Street by now, but I was surrounded by walls and tall buildings, so I couldn’t tell.

To my left, a two-story section of building crossed over the courtyard like a bridge, with a terraced area that looked like large stairs, similar to the terrace near the lecture hall.  I got a running start and climbed those large stairs; at the top I found myself facing the football stadium, with North Quad Avenue in front of me and A Street on my right. I turned left back on North Quad Avenue toward the bookstore, then turned back into the Social Sciences complex of buildings, checking behind every corner, trash can, utility box, and tree for Taylor.  He wasn’t there.

I found myself in a new below-ground courtyard.  It was not any of the same ones that I had seen before, but it looked similar: bushes and small trees in planters, narrow stairways leading up to ground level, towering concrete structures around me.  I climbed the stairs and walked along the walkways until I reached locked doors and turned around. I climbed a different set of stairs, which appeared to spiral around at right angles and connect eventually to all five levels of the building next to me, yet none of these stairs led to any unlocked doors.  More importantly, there was no sign of Taylor anywhere nearby.

I found a path I had not taken before which led back out to North Quad Avenue, near the bookstore.  I turned down East Quad Avenue past the lecture hall and walked back into the Social Sciences Building complex the same way I saw Taylor first enter the building.  About fifteen minutes had passed since Taylor entered the building. I found myself back at the five-story staircase I had climbed earlier. The stairs climbed upward turning at 90 degree angles; in between this right-angled spiral was an elevator shaft.  I pressed the Down button, not sure if the elevator was actually running at night. It was, and Taylor was not inside it. I got out at the basement level and walked to the glass wall of classrooms where I had been earlier.

I wandered around the building, trying to find new places I hadn’t been yet, new places where Taylor might be hiding.  I climbed every staircase I could see. I tried opening every door; almost all of them were locked, and the few that weren’t did not lead to Taylor’s hiding place.

During my third time passing the glass wall of classrooms, I saw Liz approaching me from the other direction, coming down the stairway between the lecture hall and Younger Hall.  She was the first human being I had seen since parting ways with Pete and Sarah at this very spot some time ago.

“Still searching, I see?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Liz replied.  “He must have found a really good hiding spot.”

“Good luck.”

I climbed the stairs that Liz had just come down, finding myself back at ground level on East Quad Avenue facing the bookstore.  I looked at my watch: it was 9:49 PM. Eight of us besides me had been wandering around that strange alien building for the last twenty-seven minutes, and I had not seen any of them until now.  Was the building actually so labyrinthine that I would not have seen anyone for so long? Or, perhaps, did everyone else except Liz find Taylor quickly and hide with him? Were they all waiting for me and Liz, wondering why we weren’t there yet?

As my search continued, through a nearly endless post-apocalyptic alien landscape of steel and concrete, up and down stairs, across bridges, and through tunnels, I felt my frustration growing.  Where else could Taylor be hiding? What was left to search? Why was this so difficult for me? I looked behind the same trash cans and planters I had searched twice already. I climbed up and down the same stairs over and over again.  No sign of Taylor, or anyone else.

I sat on one of the benches that Taylor was not hiding under or behind.  I looked up at the dark night sky. I was lost, I was frustrated, and I had no idea what to do.  I took a deep breath. I checked my watch. 10:26. I had been searching for Taylor for over an hour.  For all I knew, my friends might have all found Taylor and gone back to Building C and left me behind. I wanted to trust them, I didn’t think they would do that to me, but at this point I didn’t know anything for sure.

I walked back across the courtyard with the glass wall of classrooms.  I had lost count of how many times I had been here tonight. I wasn’t even sure that all the times I had been here had actually been the same place.  Maybe there were two courtyards with glass walls of classrooms. I didn’t know anymore.

I climbed the staircase that made 90 degree turns spiraling around the elevator shaft for the fifth or sixth time.  How long would I stay out here? What if I never found Taylor? Would Taylor and the others come find me when they went back to Building C?  How would I know? How would they even find me, if I had only seen one other human being in the last hour? This was my life now. I was going to roam the stairs and tunnels of the Social Science Building forever.  Someday a new generation of Jeromeville students would tell ghost stories about me, about the time they walked down the haunted staircase in the Social Sciences Building and saw a tall dark-haired guy with a Jeromeville sweatshirt looking for some mysterious person named Taylor, and then disappearing into thin air.

I climbed more stairs.  I knew exactly where this stairway would lead: a locked door that was part of the third floor of one of the five-story towers.  On the other side of this stairway from the tower was the roof of a two-story part of the building.

Roof.

Two stories.

I was climbing to the third floor.  The roof was below me. The roof was just on the other side of this low wall on the right side of the stairs.  Just three feet below me.

I hopped the low wall and jumped down three feet, landing on the roof.  I turned around to look behind me, on the part of the roof under the stairs.

Taylor was sitting, hunched over, out of sight of anyone on the stairs.

“Hey,” he whispered when I made eye contact with him.

He was alone.

“Am I really the first one to find you?” I whispered back, crawling under the stairs out of sight.

“Yeah.”

“You’ve been here for over an hour?  This is a brilliant hiding place!”

“I know!”

“I thought I was going to be last because I’ve been looking–”

“Shh!” Taylor said, cutting me off.  I stopped talking, suddenly aware that I was supposed to be hiding.  I thought I heard footsteps approaching, but they quickly went away.

About five minutes later, Sarah found us.  With three people hiding, it became more difficult to stay out of sight, and it did not take long for everyone else to find us after that.  It also became harder to stay quiet as more and more people hid under the stairs in close proximity. After the last person (it was Ramon) found us, we emerged from our rooftop hiding place at 10:48.

As we made our way out of the Social Sciences Building complex and headed back across the Quad toward Building C, Pete asked, “Who found Taylor first?”

“Greg did,” Taylor said.

“I couldn’t believe it,” I said.  “I’d been looking for over an hour, and I only saw another person once.  I thought for sure I was the last one and you guys were all hiding with Taylor and wondering where I was.”

“And we were all just as lost as you were,” Sarah said.

“I was starting to worry that maybe I would never find you guys.  How would I know if it was time to give up and go home? What if I was wandering around in that crazy building all night?”

“Greg,” Liz said.  “We would never leave you behind.”

“Thanks.  I appreciate that.”

A few years later, I would read more about the Death Star building.  The architect intended much of its unusual features to be a metaphor for the natural geography of the surrounding region.  If one looks at the building from above, the patchwork of buildings and courtyards represents the patchwork of farms in the valley.  The two five-story towers represent mountains rising above the valley, and the crooked paths between buildings represent rivers winding through the valley floor.  The problem is that most people don’t fly over the building, they have to find rooms within it, but I was told that the building was intended to be confusing on purpose.  People would have to interact to help each other navigate the building; the interaction fits with the building’s purpose of housing social sciences offices and departments.

As we walked back toward Building C, I looked up at the sky again.  I could see more stars now than I could from inside the Death Star. Life is confusing, just like finding someone or something hidden in the Social Sciences Building, or like the Social Sciences Building in general.  Sometimes I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing or where I’m going. But then I look around and realize that a lot of other people are just as lost and confused. Maybe someone is less confused than me about some things, but more confused about other things.  And that’s okay, because we always end up getting somewhere somehow.

death star 1death star 2death star 3
In April of 2019, after Spring Picnic, I walked around the Death Star trying to find Taylor’s hiding place.  That’s when these pictures were taken.  When I found the hiding place, I noticed that there was a locked glass door in  front of it.  I don’t remember a glass door in 1995.  Someone probably added it later, once it was discovered how easy it was for silly college kids to sneak into the building and get on the roof.
death star 4

April 28-May 2, 1995.  The first physics midterm.

I sat in math class on a Friday morning, listening to the instructor talk about finding derivatives of vector functions.  It seemed simple enough… just write the vector components of the function and find the derivative of each component. When I registered for classes, the name “vector analysis” made me think the class would be difficult, especially since I wasn’t entirely sure what a vector was, but so far the class had been easy.

I wished that had been true of all of my classes.

After math class, I walked to the Memorial Union.  I only had an hour between math and physics class, and I had finally figured out that I did not have to go all the way back to my dorm room between classes.  This quarter, when I had a gap of an hour or two between classes, I would go find a table at the Memorial Union and read or work on homework. I tried to do math homework today, but I was having a hard time concentrating, dreading what was coming in an hour when I got to physics class.

Physics was in a small building called Ross Hall.  This building had a lecture hall of about 200 seats on one side and another lecture hall of about 100 seats on the other side.  Inexplicably, the two lecture halls were called room 55 and room 66, with 66 being the larger one. I still didn’t understand how rooms were numbered in some of these buildings.  Upstairs from the two lecture halls were 12 small laboratory rooms with numbers in the 150s and 160s. That numbering was consistent with most buildings on the University of Jeromeville campus, with the room numbers being 100 greater than the room numbers below them, but I still didn’t understand why they didn’t just start with something like 1 and 101. I’m a numbers guy. I think about these things. 

UJ offered three different physics classes: Physics 1, a very general class that counted as a general education requirement for non-science majors; Physics 7, focusing on concepts and procedures, designed for majors like biology and pre-med; and Physics 9, teaching all the details and theory and mathematics behind general physics, for students of engineering, the physical sciences, and mathematics.  I still hadn’t declared a major, but all of the majors I had been considering, including physics itself, required this last physics class, so taking this class was a given for me. Unlike most year-long classes, Physics 9 started in spring quarter, and continued through the following winter, April to March, so that incoming freshmen would have two quarters to learn calculus before beginning physics.

Physics was easy in high school.  Most science classes were easy for me.  Science, like mathematics, followed consistent logical rules.  In real life, there were scientific concepts that didn’t follow these rules, because humanity’s knowledge of the universe was incomplete, but those were not the kinds of things taught in high school.

Because physics was so easy for me in high school, I expected physics to continue to be easy in college.  My professor, Dr. Collins, taught one thing differently than the way it was in the book, and I didn’t quite understand it the way he explained it, but I understood what was in the book just fine.  I had a midterm last Monday, and I expected it to be easy, because physics was easy.

Expectations are often different from reality, and this was why I had felt so discouraged after actually taking the physics midterm.  This was also why I felt a sense of dread walking into 66 Ross today, because my graded midterm was there, waiting for me to go pick it up.

The lobby for the lecture hall had a long wooden shelf where instructors and graders could leave exams to be passed back.  The shelf was only a couple inches deep, with vertical compartments to hold papers so that students could flip through the papers looking for theirs.  The papers were separated alphabetically. I found D and looked for Dennison. I nervously removed my paper from the shelf, reassuring myself that it couldn’t possibly be that bad.

It was that bad.

It was even worse than that bad, actually.

I walked into the lecture hall and took a seat in the back.  I felt too ashamed to sit any closer to the front. I felt like I didn’t even belong at this university getting grades like this.

54 out of 120.  That’s less than 50%, and in the high school grading method I was used to, less than 50% is an F.

I looked through my paper to see what I got wrong exactly.  As I looked through the questions, I noticed something that sunk my already low confidence through the floor.

The grader had counted incorrectly.  My grade was actually 44 out of 120. That was certainly failing.

Dr. Collins began speaking from the front of the classroom.  “Your midterms are in the lobby, if you haven’t gotten them yet,” he said.  “I curved them like this.” He put a transparency on the overhead projector indicating what score corresponded to what letter grade.  Apparently I wasn’t the only student who did poorly. 54 out of 120 was being curved to a C-minus. 44 out of 120 was still curved to an F, though.  I wasn’t sure how the curve worked exactly. I never did figure out if there was a set formula which instructors used to curve grades, or if they just looked at how everyone did and separated them into five letter grade groups.

This entire quarter was about mechanics: velocity, acceleration, force, torque, energy, momentum, that kind of stuff.  It seemed pretty simple. But somehow, I just didn’t understand what to do with the information given on the test. A lot of the problems weren’t like the homework, and Dr. Collins had included one problem, out of six total, which entirely involved the part of his instruction that wasn’t in the textbook.

I had a hard time concentrating on the lecture that day.  I should be concentrating harder with the kind of grade I got on that test, but I couldn’t help it.  I couldn’t stop dwelling on the fact that I had failed a test. I had never failed a test before. School was the one thing I was good at, especially classes like physics.

 

At dinner that night, I looked around the dining hall for a place to sit.  I saw Skeeter and Bok and a girl from another building whom I knew to be Bok’s friend from high school.  I saw Megan with some girls I didn’t know, probably from her building. I saw Mike and Ian and Gina from the third floor of my building.  I decided to ignore all of them and sit by myself. Why bother sitting with friends when I would probably fail out of UJ at the end of the year and never see these people again?  I was an Interdisciplinary Honors Program student. I wasn’t supposed to fail a test.

My plan to sit alone didn’t work, though.  Taylor and Pete and Charlie saw me sitting alone about five minutes later and approached me with their trays of food.  

“Can we sit here?” Taylor asked.

“Sure,” I muttered.  I thought about telling them I wanted to be alone, but that didn’t seem right.

“How’s it goin’?”

“Not well.”

“What’s wrong, man?”

“I bombed a physics midterm.”

“Is that all?” Taylor said, almost laughing.  “I’ve bombed a few tests this year, and I’m still doing fine.”

“It’s not funny,” I said, a little louder this time, looking down at the table and not making eye contact.  “I thought I knew all of this.”

“Sorry.  I know it’s tough.  But try not to let it get you down.”

“I’m trying.  I can’t help it.  It’s all I can think about.”

“This really isn’t the end of the world,” Pete said.  “Which physics? 9A?”

“Yes.”

“My class just got the first midterm back.  I got a B-minus. I think it was a rude awakening for everyone.  How bad was yours?”

“44 out of 120.”

“Yikes.”

I should have taken Pete’s class, I thought.  Pete’s instructor probably goes by the book and doesn’t add his own thing.  Unfortunately, it was too late to change my schedule for this quarter. I would try signing up for 9B in the fall with a different instructor.  Maybe I’d have an easier time with someone other than Dr. Collins… that is, if I get to sign up for classes in the fall at all, and I don’t get kicked out of school for failing first.

“Are you doing anything this weekend?” Taylor asked.

“I don’t think so.”

“Maybe that’ll be good.  Just rest, and study physics so you’ll do better next time.”

“We’ll see, I guess.”

The others started talking about their plans for the weekend.  It was Friday night, so they all had Jeromeville Christian Fellowship later that night.  I finished eating as they talked about JCF and the speaker for that night. It sounded like they were going to have a fun night.  I didn’t have anything like that to look forward to, and even if I did, I wouldn’t have felt like going anyway.

 

I spent the rest of Friday night in my room.  I wrote emails to the girls I knew from the Internet whom I had been talking to.  I checked all the Usenet groups I followed, a few for fans of bands I liked and a few for fans of sports teams I liked.  I got on IRC looking for girls to talk to, but no one I knew was on and no one in the chat was talking to me.

I read for a while.  I had been reading It by Stephen King.  My mom was a big Stephen King fan, and she had read this book when I was a kid, when the book was new, so she had told me a little bit about the book over the years.  The book was very long; I had been reading it for over a month, and I still had over a hundred pages to go.

Around ten o’clock, I walked down the hall to use the bathroom, then walked up and down the entire length of the second floor to see if anyone was around.  As I turned the corner and got closer to my room, number 221, I saw Liz from room 222 come out of the stairwell and walk toward her room. She heard me walking and turned around.  “Hey, Greg,” she said, smiling.

“Hi.”

“What’s up?”

“I bombed a test.”

“Oh no.  What class?”

“Physics 9A.”

“I’ve heard that’s hard.  I only have to take the 7 series.”

“This never happens.  Physics was always easy in high school.  What if every test is going to be hard for me from now on?  What if I fail and get kicked out of school?”

“You’re not going to fail out,” Liz said reassuringly.  “Everyone has a bad day sometimes.”

“I guess.  I’ve never done this badly on a test before.  I’m scared.”

“I just got back from JCF.  The speaker tonight spoke on God’s unconditional love.  You know what that means, right?”

“I think it means God loves me no matter what?” I asked hesitantly.

“Yes!  Paul wrote that nothing could ever separate us from the love of God.  Greg, you are still a beloved child of God even if you bomb a physics test.  Even if you fail out of school. You’re not going to, but even that isn’t the end of the world, because God loves you, and he has a plan for you.”

“I guess.”

“No.  I know.  God brought you here to Jeromeville for a reason, and it wasn’t to get all down on yourself.  Can you at least think about that and try to cheer up?”

“I’ll try.”

“It’ll be okay, Greg.  It really will. I’ll pray for you.”

“Thank you.  I appreciate it.  And I’m going to start going to office hours and studying harder.”

“See?  You have a plan.  That’s good. But don’t ever forget that God’s love for you is not conditional on your grades.”

“I won’t forget.”

 

The rest of my weekend was fairly uneventful.  I had physics problems to work on, and this time I read the book far more carefully as I was working.  I would not get caught off guard again by a difficult midterm. I had one more midterm in three weeks, and then the final exam.

The more I thought about what had happened with this physics midterm, the more I realized that the answer to one of the open questions about my life was taking shape.  It was time to make a decision. On Tuesday morning, after math class got out, I had a three hour gap until my chemistry lab, so I went to the basement of Marks Hall. A display on the wall had various forms for students; I checked to see if the one I needed was there.  It was. REQUEST TO CHANGE MAJOR. I picked it up and filled it out, with “Mathematics” as the requested major. I read through the fine print explaining that some majors were impacted and needed prior approval or other conditions; I was pretty sure Mathematics was not impacted in that way.  I submitted the form and left.

My next stop was Dr. Collins’ office hours.  His office was in the physics building, next to the chemistry building and Ross Hall and not too far from Marks Hall.  Like the chemistry building, the physics building did not have another name. Dr. Collins’ office was on the third floor, and when I got there, a line had already formed out the door.  Four students were in front of me waiting to ask questions. I listened and took notes on all the other students’ questions.

“What can I help you with?” Dr. Collins asked when I got to the front of the line.

I showed him my midterm.  “You counted the score wrong.  Or your TA did. I only got 44, not 54.”

Dr. Collins looked at my midterm and thought for a few seconds.  “It was our mistake. Don’t worry about it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.  Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“I was confused about this problem.”  I got out my textbook and pointed to a problem I hadn’t been able to solve from last night’s homework.  I listened as Dr. Collins reminded me how coefficients of friction worked, and how to calculate kinetic energy.

“Thanks,” I said.  “I think I get it now.”

“You’re welcome.  See you in class tomorrow.”

I had my chemistry lab that afternoon.  The laboratory classrooms for general chemistry were in the basement of the chemistry building.  The hallways in the basement were dim and a little scary, painted a drab yellow, with lots of pipes and electrical conduits visible on and near the ceiling.  The lab rooms themselves looked exactly as one would expect them to look given what the rest of the basement looked like; this was the perfect setting for a laboratory.  My lab partner for this quarter was a girl named Marissa. She was a sophomore, a biology major, thin with a somewhat dark complexion and medium brown hair. We met last quarter, when we were also in the same lab section for chemistry, and on the first day of lab of this quarter, neither of us knew anyone else in this lab section, so we decided to be partners.

I arrived about a minute before Marissa did, about five minutes before class actually started.  “Hey, Greg!” Marissa said when she got to our table. “How are you?”

“I’m doing okay.  I just submitted a change of major form.”

“Changing your major?  From math to what?”

“From undeclared to math.”

“Oh!  I thought you told me you were a math major.  You hadn’t declared it yet?”

“I was thinking about a few different majors.  Math, physics, maybe chemistry. All the classes I was good at in high school.  I’ve been leaning more toward math. I bombed a physics midterm last week, and that made up my mind for good to do math.”

“Oh no!  How bad was it?”

“I failed.  The grader counted my score wrong, and with the curve, the incorrect score would be a C-minus.  I was honest and told him about the mistake in office hours, and he told me not to worry about it.  But still, if I’m doing that poorly on the first physics test I ever take, it’s not going to be my major.”

“I get that.  My roommate from last year was an engineer until she bombed her first calculus final.  Now she’s an art major.”

“Wow.  That’s a big change.”

“Yeah.  Do you need chemistry for a math major?”

“No.  But you need it for everything else I was considering.  I’ll probably finish out the Chem 2 series, I like chemistry, but I won’t be taking any more after that.”

“Yeah.  Well, good luck with your new major.”

“Thanks.”

 

I went to Dr. Collins’ office hours once a week for the rest of the quarter.  I reread every chapter of the physics book in the week before the second midterm.  I paid more attention in class and did my homework right away so that I would remember what I had learned.  I was determined not to fail the next midterm. I had never before studied so hard for a science class.

Three weeks later, as I walked into 66 Ross knowing that I would get the second midterm back, I remembered what Liz had told me after the first midterm.  I was still a beloved child of God no matter how I did on this test. I had done so poorly the first time that I felt like I was ready to fail again. I wasn’t going to be shocked at a bad grade, since I had already done poorly in the class so far, but I was at least hoping that I did significantly better.  I kept trying to remind myself that God loved me even if I failed physics, but it was hard to wrap my head around that. This was the first time anyone had ever told me that God still loved me even if I failed a class, and while it sounded right in my heart and in my mind, I still could not really wrap my head around that concept.

I pulled my midterm paper out of the letter D section of the rack of returned papers, and I nervously looked at the top of the paper.  I gasped and almost dropped the paper when I saw that I got a perfect score. A perfect score, after having failed the last test. I had the highest grade (well, at least tied with everyone else who got a perfect score) in a class of 200 students.  I smiled wide as I walked to my seat. My hard work had paid off.

At the end of the quarter, I somehow still ended up getting an A in the class.  I don’t know exactly how the professor calculated the grade, and I felt like I didn’t deserve the A after doing so poorly on the first midterm.  But I wouldn’t complain. After that first midterm, I knew that I needed to change what I had been doing. Life gets me down sometimes, and the best I can ever do is get back up and try again and see what I am actually capable of.  The hard work in physics continued to pay off as I continued to get As in all three quarters of physics, and I never failed a test again for the rest of my life.

However, this experience also taught me that physics was not my strong point.  I did not enjoy the level of work I had to put in to get good grades in physics. Mathematics was more enjoyable and came more naturally to me.  I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with a math degree, but I was definitely making progress now that I had a goal for the rest of my time at UJ.

2019. Hoppy Tales (an interlude from my 1995 story).

This is Greg writing as an adult in 2019.  I’m doing something different for this post.  I was tagged in a blog thingy, and I can’t really work this into my 1995 story, so I’m just going to do that for this post, and I’ll get back to 1995 in a week or so.  If this is your first time reading DLTDGB and you were expecting to read an episodic coming-of-age story set in the 1990s, then scroll down and read the previous post, or click here to start from the beginning.

Jenny at Of Progress and Purpose tagged me in the Hoppy Tales collaboration.  Thank you, Jenny!

Does anyone else remember sending around a piece of paper and writing pass-along stories with your friends growing up? If you enjoyed it, we think you might enjoy this, too.

The Tag:

Just as there are five parts in a traditional plot structure, we will have:

  1. An Introduction
  2. A Problem
  3. A Climax
  4. A Resolution
  5. A Conclusion
Original Image can be found here at: storyboardthat.com

You will be tagged to complete one of these five elements, along with given a theme (such as: beauty of simplicity, comedy, overcoming fear, love and romance, youth and beauty, coming of age, circle of life, friendship, empowerment).

The Rules:

  1. Provide a link back to the creators (Of Progress and PurposeKNJ Snippets & Tales, and Ink and Thoughts) so that we can see what you write!
  2. Share “The Tag” and “The Rules” to help eliminate confusion.
  3. Thank the person who tagged you and link back to their portion of the story.
  4. Write your element with 3-4 days and try to keep it to around 50-60 words.
  5. Choose one or more persons to continue the story and assign them a theme.
    • You may wish to let them know ahead of time in the comments, so that they can opt out if they don’t want to participate.
    • If you write a conclusion, whoever you tag will start a new story of their own.
    • If you tag more than one person, your readers will be able to choose their own adventure!
  6. Have fun with it! You are all so creative and inspiring, We can’t wait!

An Introduction: (by Jenny – link)

Kathy moved quickly, narrowly missing the rocks and roots scattered about the forest floor. A branch grazed her cheek once or twice, but she pressed most of them away with her free hand. In her remaining hand, she held fast to a new beginning, her heart beating nearly out of her chest. Hope bubbled inside her with each new step.

I was given the theme Comedy.

A Problem:

Kathy turned to look at a squirrel, taking her eyes off a branch that smacked her face a second later.  She screamed, falling to the ground and landing in bear droppings.  “Kathy?” a voice called.  Kathy blushed, mortified, seeing the handsome gentleman she had come to meet, the source of her new hope.  He had witnessed her moment of clumsiness.

Tag… Kathy is it.  The climax is next.  Your theme is love and romance.

April 20-22, 1995. The Spring Picnic.

Every weekend, all across America, small independent local bands play live music to crowds in bars and small music venues.  University neighborhoods are a natural breeding ground for live music, and Jeromeville was no exception. One of the biggest such bands around here in the 90s was called Lawsuit.  This band had 10 members playing all sorts of different instruments, touring up and down the western United States playing shows in clubs and bars, and at fairs and festivals.  Some of the members of Lawsuit grew up right here in Jeromeville, so it was always a big deal whenever Lawsuit played a show here.

I first heard the name Lawsuit on a Thursday night in April, right after the bombing in Oklahoma City happened.  In the middle of hearing  about that in the national news, I kept encountering in the local news something called the Spring Picnic.  Apparently this was an annual event that would be happening this coming Saturday on the University of Jeromeville campus. The Daily Colt billed the Spring Picnic as the largest student-run event in the USA, but the flyers I kept seeing were somewhat less clear on what actually happened at the Spring Picnic.  It sounded kind of like a fair, from what I had read about it.

The days were getting longer that time of year.  I walked from Building C to the dining hall at 6:03pm under a blue sky, the sun low on the horizon but still shining.  Much of the walk was in shadow because of the three-story dormitory buildings surrounding me.

After I got my meal, I looked around the room to see if anyone I knew had an empty seat nearby.  I saw Megan, the RA from Building K, sitting with a guy and a girl who I thought were other RAs from other buildings.  I walked toward them.

“Hey, Greg!” Megan said as I approached.

“May I sit here?” I asked.

“Sure!”

As I began eating, Megan asked me, “How’s your week going?  Are you going to the Spring Picnic?”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I think so.  I’m still not really sure what it is, though.  I had never heard of it until about a week ago.”

“You’ve never heard of the Spring Picnic?”

“I’m not from here, remember.”

“It’s so much fun!  It’s like a giant open house for the university.  There are exhibits for departments all over campus, and student groups have performances and food tables and stuff like that, and there’s a Battle of the Bands with marching bands from different universities.  And there will be free outdoor concerts. Lawsuit is gonna be there! Have you heard Lawsuit?”

“I don’t think so.”

“They’re so good!  They’ll be playing at 3:00, I think.”

“I’ll have to check them out, then.”

“Spring Picnic is fun!  You’ll enjoy it.”

“Sounds like it.”

 

In 1995, with no social media or hashtags, student groups and organizations advertised in more low-tech ways.  Groups put flyers on bulletin boards all over campus. Sometimes someone would just walk into an unlocked classroom and write an announcement for an event on the chalkboard.  The class where I had math Friday morning had the words “SPRING PICNIC IS TOMORROW” written on the far right side of the board. The instructor was showing us how to calculate a vector cross product.  It was a fairly involved process, which seemed somewhat arbitrary and counterintuitive at first, although I would learn soon that this had applications in physics and engineering.

When the instructor ran out of room on the board, he started to erase the Spring Picnic announcement.  “You all know Spring Picnic is tomorrow, right?” he said. A few people in the class laughed.  I did know that. I knew now, at least. The instructor erased the announcement and continued working on the problem.

After math, I had an hour break, then physics.  I went back to my room for lunch after that, picking up a copy of the Daily Colt on the way.  It seemed unusually thick today; I unfolded it to see why, and I discovered a copy of the Spring Picnic Guide inside.  The guide contained a complete schedule of events, along with a campus map and parking information. I didn’t need this because I was a student and I lived on campus and knew my way around; apparently this same guide would be given to visitors from out of town who might need that information.

The schedule of events alone covered several pages.  Events were grouped by type: student organizations, academic departments, animal events, performances, athletics, and the like.  Everything happened simultaneously all over campus, and it would be impossible to see everything. Being that this was my first Spring Picnic, I did not have anything set in mind that I had to see, other than Lawsuit (the guide said they were playing at 3:00, just like Megan said, on the Quad Stage).  One page was dedicated to listing participants in the parade and a few paragraphs about this year’s Grand Marshal of the parade. The parade started at 10:00, so that would be a good place to start my day.

I was still holding the Daily Colt and the Spring Picnic Guide when I walked into Building C.  Pete, Charlie, Sarah, Danielle, and Taylor were sitting in the common room.  Pete and Charlie spent so much time in the common room that quarter that they had joked about moving in there.  They had taken the signs from their doors with their names on them and attached them to the wall in the entryway to the common room, and they had put duct tape in the shape of the digits “110” on the wall next to their names.  The first room on the first floor, Bok’s room, was room 112, and their signs were on the same side of the building as Bok’s room, so the next even number counting down would be 110.

“Hey, Greg,” Taylor said.  He was sitting next to Danielle on a couch, and Pete and Sarah were sitting together on the other couch.  Charlie sat in a chair next to Pete and Sarah’s couch. Taylor and Danielle kind of looked like a couple, and so did Pete and Sarah, although these days they all spent so much time together I couldn’t tell if they were actually together or just good friends.  I tend to be the last one to know when couples get together.

“Is that the schedule for the Spring Picnic?” Danielle asked, noticing the guide in my hand.  “You have to come see us tomorrow. 1:00 outside the music building.”

“Who is ‘us?’” I asked.

“University Chorus.”

“Sure.  I don’t really know much about the Spring Picnic.  I don’t have a plan. I’m just going to wander around and look for cool stuff, I guess.”

“Are you going to the chemistry magic show?” Pete asked.  “I’ve heard that’s good.”

“That’s the one you have to line up for tickets, right?” I replied.  “I was reading that in here. I don’t know if I feel like getting up early and standing in line.  I haven’t decided yet.”

“What about lining up to stick your hand in a cow?” Taylor asked.  “Are you gonna do that?”

“Ewwww!” Danielle exclaimed.

“I read about that too,” I said.  “I might. It depends on how long the line is.”

Scientists can surgically attach a structure called a fistula to the side of a cow, providing a window to observe inside the cow’s stomach, for the purposes of studying and researching bovine digestion.  The window can open, allowing a researcher to insert a gloved arm inside the cow and remove and analyze the contents of her stomach. I read an article in today’s Daily Colt saying that a popular Spring Picnic exhibit involved people standing in line to stick their arms into a fistulated cow.  This all sounded intriguing, but I didn’t particularly feel in the mood to stand in line for a long time. I would wait and see how long the line was.

I had one more class later that afternoon, and I spent the rest of the night doing homework and reading and studying.  It wasn’t exactly the most exciting Friday night of my life, but tomorrow looked like it would be a long, fun day, so I figured I would get ahead while I could.  I went to bed around 11, excited to see what this Spring Picnic tomorrow would bring.

 

In 1905, the state legislature passed a bill calling for the establishment of an agriculture campus for University of the Bay,  the state’s only public university at that time.  Agriculture was, and still is, a major industry in this area, but the urban Bay campus gave students nowhere to practice what they learned in agriculture classrooms. So the University Farm was born, and the location chosen was sixty miles away from the Bay campus, in Arroyo Verde County.  The University Farm would be next to a tiny town called Jeromeville, on land that had once been the ranch of the town’s namesake, the Jerome family. It took a few years for the Farm to get running, but the students eventually came.

An article in the Daily Colt explained more of the history of the Spring Picnic.  In 1909, at the end of the first full school year on the University Farm, the entire 26-man faculty, and the entire student body of 112 male students, held a picnic to share what they had learned.  The picnic was open to the public, to serve as an open house to present their research and show the brand new dairy barn to residents of the surrounding region. The crowd of visitors overwhelmed the campus as over two thousand people picnicked on the Quad and nearby fields.  The picnic became an annual tradition, eventually being taken over by the Associated Students organization instead of being run by faculty. The Jeromeville campus grew, becoming independent of the University of the Bay in 1959, and the Spring Picnic grew with it as other departments and student organizations used it as their open house.  The west half of the Quad was still designated for picnics, although picnicking was no longer the focus of the event.

I left the South Residential Area around nine-thirty Saturday morning, after showering, eating, and reading the newspaper.  I had heard older students say that it always rained on the day of the Spring Picnic, but today was sunny and mild without a cloud in sight. I could already tell that it would be no ordinary day.  Normally, the campus was mostly empty on a Saturday morning, but today people were walking around, and not all of the people looked like students. Many were middle-aged and older adults, and some had children with them.

I walked toward the Quad by way of the chemistry building.  As I approached the building, I could see a line extending from the large lecture hall on one side all the way around the opposite side of the building.  The line was not moving. I continued walking toward the Quad, ignoring the line. I would see the chemistry show some other year; I didn’t feel like standing in line today.

At the Quad, people sat and lined up all along both sides of the parade route. I had to look around for a bit before I found a place to sit on the curb.  “Is anyone sitting here?” I asked a woman next to the empty spot. She had a toddler with her, a boy with bushy red hair.

“No,” she said.  “Go ahead.”

I pulled my copy of the Spring Picnic Guide out of my pocket, reading through the parade lineup.  I heard amplified voices, unintelligible from here, in the distance on my left. I turned to look, but all I saw was a line of people sitting and standing under the tall cork oaks lining West Quad Avenue.  The street was mostly empty, except for a few bicyclists riding past occasionally. The voices seemed to be coming from around the corner at the end of the street. I thought I saw something about some kind of opening ceremony at the beginning of the parade route, which is what I was probably hearing.  I read through the parade lineup as I waited, then I looked through other parts of the guide, looking for other things I would want to see.

The parade began at 10:00 and reached my location around 10:10.  I watched as dozens of groups and floats marched past. Student organizations and clubs, academic departments, fraternities and sororities, community organizations, children’s groups, marching bands from other colleges and high schools, and local political figures all marched and walked past.  Some groups walked carrying banners, some rode on floats, some rode in fancy vehicles, and because this was Jeromeville, a few groups were on bicycles. Some sorority sisters walked past, handing out candy to little kids. The boy sitting next to me got a Tootsie Roll, and his mother said, “Can you say thank you?”  The boy shyly hid his face. I wanted a Tootsie Roll too, but I didn’t make a big deal of it.

I got a good laugh out of some of the parade entries.  The Associated Students Tour Guides walked through the parade backward.  The MBA students from the UJ School of Management wore suits and ties over shorts that said “Cover Your Assets” across the butt.  Alpha Gamma Rho, the fraternity for agriculture students, had a float shaped like a giant cow. When the group from Jeromeville College Republicans walked by, I cheered loudly, and I noticed some people nearby giving me dirty looks.  They handed me a small US flag. The little boy next to me got one too, and his mother said nothing; I could sense a subtle look of disapproval on her face.

After about an hour, about three-fourths of the parade groups had passed by.  There was nothing in particular I was waiting for in the rest of the parade, so I got up and walked to the path between Wellington and Kerry Halls, where the Math Club had their tables.  I had attended Math Club twice so far this year, and I was on their email list.

I stopped at the first table, where a tall blond student whom I didn’t know stood in front of a wooden puzzle.  The puzzle had three vertical pegs in a row. Five wooden discs of different diameters were stacked on the leftmost peg, with the largest on the bottom.

“Hi,” the blond guy said when he noticed my interest.  “The object is to get all of the discs on a different peg.  But you can only move one at a time, and–”

“You can’t put a larger one on a smaller one, right?”

“Yes.  Have you seen this before?”

“The Towers of Hanoi puzzle,” I said.  “I saw something about it in a math book.  Let me see if I remember how to do it.”

“What’s your major?”

“I’m not sure,” I said as I picked up the smallest disc, and placed it on the middle peg.  “I haven’t declared yet. But I’m thinking math. Maybe physics or chemistry.” I placed the next smallest disc on the right peg, and I put the smallest disc on top of this one.  I had moved two discs successfully, with the middle peg empty.

“Have you been to our Math Club?” the student asked me as I put the third disc on the middle peg.  If I remembered correctly, the point of this puzzle was that each step was recursive. Move the third disc, then do all the previous steps again to move the first two on top of the third, since I already successfully moved two discs.  Move the fourth disc, then do all the previous steps again to move the first three on top of the fourth, since I already successfully moved three discs.

“I’ve been a couple times, yeah.”

“I don’t think I’ve met you.  I’m Brandon.”

“I’m Greg,” I said, shaking Brandon’s hand.

“Nice to meet you.”

After a few more minutes, I finished the puzzle, with all five discs now stacked on the middle peg.  “You got it,” Brandon said. “Good job. You get a prize.” He handed me a fun size bag of Skittles, the size given to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.  I never understood why those tiny little candies were called “fun size.” It’s no fun when you run out of Skittles so quickly.

“Thanks,” I said.

“I’ll see you at the next Math Club meeting?  Second Wednesday of the month in 108 Wellington?”

“Yeah.  Probably.”

At the next table, Mary Heinrich, the Math Club president, stood next to three puzzles requiring separating interlocked objects that looked like they could not be separated without cutting or breaking.  “I’m terrible at these,” I said.

“Hey, Greg,” Mary said.  “How are you?”

“Good,” I replied.  I had met Mary through Math Club, and I also knew that she had been in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program as a freshman, the same program I am in now along with everyone else in Building C.  “This is my first Spring Picnic. I wasn’t sure what to expect.”

“Spring Picnic is fun!  There’s so much to see!”

“I know!  So far I’ve just been watching the parade.”

“Enjoy the rest of your day!  Are you coming to the next Math Club meeting?”

“I think so.”

“I’ll see you then!”

After the Math Club exhibit, I walked back to West Quad Avenue and crossed it; the parade had finished by now, but the entire campus had become even more crowded.  During the lunch hours, some student organizations sold food at booths on the east side of the Quad. Many of these were cultural organizations selling food from their cultures.  Nu Alpha Kappa, a fraternity for Latinos, sold carne asada soft tacos; I bought two of them and took them back over to the west side of the Quad, where I sat under a tree and ate them.

I had not seen anyone I knew yet that morning, other than Mary from Math Club.  I was okay with that. At events like the Spring Picnic, I could wander around alone for hours and be completely entertained.  I got to the music building shortly before the start of the performance Danielle had invited me to, where I saw people I knew for the first time since leaving Building C this morning.  Besides Danielle, Claire from church was in chorus too. The singers stood on portable risers in the patio in front of the music building. A crowd was gathering, sitting and standing around the building.  I saw Taylor, Pete, Sarah, Caroline, Charlie, and standing near the street, facing the chorus.

“Hey, guys,” I said.

“Greg!” Taylor replied.  “Come on over.” The group moved over to make room for me.  Liz and Ramon arrived a few minutes later, just as the performance was starting.

I didn’t know the piece they were singing.  I knew very little about classical choral music in general.  I had never been to a performance like this, so I didn’t have much to compare it to, but they sounded good together.  Two people I didn’t know, a soprano and a tenor, had solos, and both of them had much better voices for this type of performance than I could ever have.  The only singing I do these days is in the car along to the radio,

The performance lasted about fifteen minutes.  After it ended, Danielle came over to all of us to say hi.

“I liked that,” I told her.  “I’ve never really seen a chorus perform like this before?”

“Really?” she asked.

“Yeah.”

“I’m glad we sounded good.  We rehearsed it yesterday, and I didn’t think we sounded very good.”

“You probably think about that more than the audience does, since we don’t know what it’s supposed to sound like.

“Yeah.”

“What are you guys up to the rest of the day?” Liz asked.

“I have a ton of homework to do,” Caroline said.  “But I’ll probably check out a few other things first.  One of my professors wants me to go look at an exhibit with some of his research.”

“I’ve just been wandering around all day,” I said.  “And I’m enjoying it. I’m going to go see Lawsuit on the Quad Stage later.”

“I wanted to see them too,” Ramon said.  “I heard they were supposed to be good. What time is that?”

“Three.  So, like, an hour and a half from now.”

“I need to go help put the risers back inside,” Danielle said.  “I’ll see you guys maybe at dinner tonight?”

“Yeah.”

We eventually all walked off in a few different directions.  I walked toward the dairy facilities, and as soon as I found the line for the fistulated cow, I realized that there was no was I was going to be able to wait to see it and still make it back to the Quad in time for Lawsuit.  Maybe next year I’d plan ahead. 

I walked back toward the Quad looking inside any building I could find that had an open exhibit with no line.  I saw interactive exhibits about weeds, mosquitoes, and different types of soil. In the library, I saw a display of books from the special collection about the history of Jeromeville and the UJ campus.  Very interesting old pictures. Most of these buildings I walk past every day without knowing what happens inside, but today at the Spring Picnic I got to see some of the research that happens at this university.  It fascinates me to this day how large this campus is and how many different things all happen here.

I started walking toward the Quad shortly before Lawsuit was to go on stage.  A crowd had already assembled as people on stage set up musical instruments and sound equipment.  I saw Megan in the middle of the crowd with a few faces I recognized from the dining hall. Megan was still fairly easy to spot, with her short blonde hair still having traces of the green dye from a few months ago.

“Hi,” I said walking up next to Megan.

“Hey, Greg!  You made it! This is going to be a great show!”

“I know!  I keep hearing great things about this band.”

“What all have you seen today?”

“The parade, Math Club, chorus, and I walked around some displays about weeds and mosquitoes and stuff.”

“That’s the great thing about the Spring Picnic.  There are so many random things to see.”

“I know!”

“I was working a table earlier for Society of Women Engineers.  That’s about all I’ve done so far.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” someone on stage said as the crowd started quieting.  “The name of this band is Lawsuit!” I heard the sound of bongo drums and turned toward the stage.  Lawsuit was huge; I counted 10 members of the band, eight men and two women. This band had bongo drums, regular drums, bass and regular guitars, and a variety of horns.  The drums and bass joined the bongos, followed by a horn blast and then the vocals. The lead singer had a distinct voice, higher than most male pop and rock singers but not screeching glam rocker high.  He sang two verses, a chorus that repeated the line “thank God you’re doing fine,” and then a long instrumental section, first featuring a guitar solo and then the horns. During the instrumentals, band members who weren’t playing walked around the stage in rhythm and performed silly little dances.  The vocals returned to sing one more bridge and chorus, and the song ended with another horn-centered instrumental.

I loved this song.  I loved this band. And I had only known them for five minutes.

The band members did not appear to be students.  I would guess they were mostly in their mid- to late 20s.  They looked and sounded nothing like any band I had ever heard before.  They had guitars and drums, but they also had horns. Some of their songs had rhythms typical of pop and rock songs, but others sounded more like jazz or swing.  I wasn’t even sure if they would be considered pop, rock, jazz, reggae or what. “What do you even call this kind of music?” I asked Megan, shouting slightly so I could be heard over the music.

“Ska,” Megan said.  “I guess.”

I had never heard the word ska before.  I would learn later that ska shared its Caribbean roots with reggae, but was usually faster.  However, I would hear much more ska music in the mainstream over the coming years, and Lawsuit did not sound much like the great ska bands of the 1990s.  Ska, like reggae, has a distinct rhythm with accents on the off beats, and many of Lawsuit’s songs did not have this. This was truly a band that defied categorization.

Another of their songs seemed to contain names of states and puns that sounded like names of states.  I heard the lead singer sing “I got a note from Michigan,” and I got a little scared, because just last night I had been talking and flirting with a girl from Michigan on IRC, and she had emailed me back this morning.  Did this singer somehow know the secrets of my online life? (He didn’t. And the actual lyric is “I got a note from Ish again,” with Ish presumably being someone’s name. This was one of the many somewhat nonsensical state name puns in the lyrics of this song, because “from Ish again” sounds like “from Michigan.”)

I could have stood here listening to this band for the rest of the night, but the show was over after about an hour.  “That was really good!” I said to Megan. “I love those guys!”

“I know!  This is the fourth time I’ve seen them!  They’re so good!”

“Thanks for telling me about them.”

“Yeah.  It was good to see you here.  What are you doing the rest of the day?”

“What else is going on?  It looks like most things close up by now.”

“The Battle of the Bands goes on into the night.”

“That’s the marching bands at the Arboretum?”

“Yeah.  I can’t watch them this year, I have to get back to my building, but I was there last year.  That was fun.”

“I’ll go check that out.”

“I’ll see you later?  Maybe at dinner?”

“Yeah.  Have a good rest of the day.”

“You too!”

I walked past the library and the music building to the adjacent section of the Arboretum, then west toward Marks Hall, the administration building, where I heard marching band music and saw a huge crowd.  The marching bands from Jeromeville and five other nearby universities were playing, taking turns one song at a time. According to the Daily Colt, they had to keep playing until they were out of songs to play.  Bands could not repeat songs, and they could not play their school fight song until they had played every other song they knew.  A band playing their fight song meant that they were giving up. Because of the crowd, I could not find a place to sit where I could actually see the bands well, so I only stayed about 45 minutes.  No one had given up by then. But many of the marching bands played pop and rock songs, and this made me laugh. The band from Walton University, the wealthy private school located in between San Tomas and Bay City, dressed in crazy costumes, and as much as I hated Walton because they rejected me, I thought their costumes were funny.  A sousaphonist from University of the Bay had painted the bell of his instrument to look like a Grateful Dead logo. I wished I had brought a camera, so I could take a picture of that to show Dad.

When I got back to Building C, around 5:30, I took a shower and ate, then spent the rest of the night unproductively.  I was tired from all that walking, and I didn’t feel like doing anything more. But it was a good day. My first Spring Picnic was so much fun, and I was already looking forward to next year’s Spring Picnic.  With so many things happening at the same time, there was no way I would be able to see everything every year, so Spring Picnic would seemingly never get old.

Starting with my first Spring Picnic in 1995, I have spent the entire day at Spring Picnic every year, with two exceptions.  In 2000, a new baseball stadium had just opened in Bay City, and tickets to games were hard to come by. Taylor got a group of us together to go to a game, but the day that worked best was the same day as the Spring Picnic.  The baseball game was in the afternoon, though, and when we got back to Jeromeville, the Battle of the Bands was still going on, and I went for about an hour. The only time I missed Spring Picnic entirely was in 2006, when I traveled 200 miles to my cousin Miranda’s wedding.  I wore a tie with Jeromeville Colts logos on it to remind her of the great sacrifice I had to make to be there. And Miranda knew of the existence of the Spring Picnic, so she could have planned better, but her special day doesn’t revolve around me and I didn’t complain. A little over four months from now, as I write this, I am planning on spending the entire day at the 2020 Spring Picnic, my 24th time.

This was also not my last time seeing Lawsuit.  I saw their CD in Liz’s room a few days later and borrowed it and made a tape of it.  I never did ask if that CD belonged to Liz or Ramon or Liz’s actual roommate, although I did ask if I could borrow it.  Years later, when I had the capability of burning CDs, I borrowed that same CD from someone else and burned a copy, and later saved it to my computer where it remains in my music collection to this day.  The band broke up long ago, that’s another story for another time, but great music never dies as long as people keep listening.

Mid-April 1995. Reading the newspaper.

When I was a kid, local newspapers would hire preteens on bikes to deliver newspapers in their neighborhoods.  Paperboys and papergirls would get a big stack of newspapers delivered to their house, and they would ride around the neighborhood with big bags attached to their bikes, tossing the newspapers to the porches of their subscribers.  Once a month, the kids would walk around the neighborhood collecting the monthly subscription fees from their subscribers. The newspaper office would then charge them for all the newspapers they delivered, at a bulk rate discount, and the paperboys and papergirls would pocket the difference.  A paperboy was a common enough sight in a neighborhood that there was even a video game called Paperboy, where the player had to shoot newspapers from a bike into mailboxes while dodging obstacles.

In 1988, I was one of those paperboys.  For nine months, I rode my bike around the neighborhood six days a week delivering newspapers to around 60 customers, and I’d get to keep around $150 every month, which was a lot of money to a kid in 1988.  Fortunately for me, this was when we lived in an old and flat neighborhood in Gabilan, shortly before we moved out of town into the hills of Plumdale. Also fortunately for me, the Gabilan News was an afternoon newspaper at the time, so I could do this after school, instead of having to get up at 5 every morning as I would if the News had been a morning paper.

That experience of working with newspapers got me in the habit of reading the newspaper pretty much every day.  When I started as a student at the University of Jeromeville, one of the first things I did was look into getting a newspaper subscription.  The university newspaper, the Daily Colt, was free, but it mostly only covered campus news and local news of interest to students.  Jeromeville had a local newspaper, the Jeromeville Times, but I wanted a larger and more comprehensive newspaper that would report on state and national news as well, so I subscribed to the big city newspaper for the region, the Capital City Record.  Each of the campus residential areas had a newspaper vending machine, and students who lived there and subscribed to the paper were given a key to unlock the machine and take a paper.  It seemed like it worked on the honor system, and one could easily abuse the system and steal more than one paper, but I never had a problem with the machine running out of newspapers or anything.

One morning, about two weeks into class that quarter, I got my copy of the Record on my way out of the dining hall, and I read it in my dorm room before it was time for class to start, as was my usual routine.  The major news story that dominated my freshman year at UJ was the trial of retired football player O.J. Simpson, who had been accused of killing his ex-wife.  The media reported on every sensationalized detail of the trial. I skipped over that news on the front page. I was kind of tired of hearing about O.J. Simpson.

A few pages in, I saw a headline which rang a bell in the back of my mind.  I began reading the article, shocked once I realized why it sounded so familiar.

Repressed memory conviction overturned

San Francisco – A federal judge yesterday overturned the conviction of George Franklin, who was found guilty of murdering a young girl based on the testimony of his daughter’s repressed memories.

The concept of repressed memory, the unconscious forgetting and later remembering of uncomfortable events from one’s past, was a common subject of daytime talk shows and trashy tabloid news of the time period.  In 1969, an eight-year-old girl in California was murdered, but no one was ever charged with the crime. Twenty years later, a friend of the deceased girl now had a daughter who was around the same age as her friend had been when she was killed.  She claimed that seeing her own daughter at that age triggered memories of her father, George Franklin, having smashed her friend’s head with a rock long ago. Mr. Franklin’s murder conviction was the first time that repressed memory had been used as part of a criminal case in court.  Mr. Franklin’s story had been told by true crime writer Harry N. MacLean in a book called Once Upon A Time.

The reason I had a personal interest in this case right now is because Once Upon A Time was required reading for the Psychology and the Law class that I was taking right now.  It was a class for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program, so it was only open to students in the program, all of whom lived with me in Building C.

The next time that class met, at the beginning of class, the professor, Dr. Kemp, walked in a few minutes after I got there.  As he was organizing his notes, he asked, “Did anyone see anything in the news this week that has to do with this class?”

“George Franklin got released from prison,” I said.

“Yes,” Dr. Kemp replied.  “His conviction was overturned.”

“What?” said Dan Woodward.

“That scumbag is out of prison?!” Theresa Arnold exclaimed.

“He isn’t actually out of prison yet.  But an appeals judge found that the prosecution did not present their case correctly,” Dr. Kemp explained.

“So what’s going to happen to this class now?” I asked.

“We’re still going to do everything I had planned, and we’ll talk about this new development later when it comes up.  Let’s get back to where we were last time.”

Dr. Kemp began his lecture, and I took notes.  Sticking to the plan seemed like the best possible option at this point.  Still, though, it seemed like this must have thrown off all of Dr. Kemp’s plans for the class.  I would have felt that way if I had been a teacher.

 

Sometimes, even in the days before smartphones, news traveled so fast that I would hear about something before reading it in the newspaper the next morning.  About a week after hearing that George Franklin’s murder conviction had been overturned, I sat at the dining hall during lunch one day with some of my usual friends: Liz and Ramon, Sarah, Pete, Charlie, and Krista.  They were already there when I joined their table.

“It’s so sad what happened,” Liz said.

“All those innocent people,” Sarah contemplated aloud.

“I feel really dumb for asking,” I said, “but what’s going on?”

“A terrorist blew up a government building in Oklahoma,” Pete explained.

“Wow.”

“Do they have a suspect?  Or do they know why?” Krista asked.

“I haven’t heard,” Pete said.

I don’t react outwardly to news of this sort.  I feel like this lack of emotion makes me some kind of inhuman monster who doesn’t care that people died.  That isn’t true. I guess it is just harder in my mind to connect with things like this that happened far away.

Something felt a little different about this news, though.  Oklahoma is far away, yes, but it isn’t the kind of place where I would have expected to hear about a terrorist attack.  These kinds of things happen in places like New York or Washington, D.C., not Oklahoma.

I didn’t usually watch TV news, but that night I did, on the tiny black-and-white TV in my room.  The bombing happened in Oklahoma City, the state capital, and there were dozens confirmed dead already, with more likely to be found as the rubble was searched.  A suspect was in custody already, and he was believed to be a radical executing a vendetta against the government.

Oklahoma City may have been far off to me, a place to watch on the news, but it hit much closer to home for someone I knew.  I discovered this when I checked my email later that night.

 


Hey… how are you?  How were your classes today?  I hope it went well.

Did you hear about the bombing in Oklahoma City?  It’s scary. That’s only a few hours away from me.  My friend’s grandma lives in Oklahoma City, but not in that part of the city.  She’s ok. Today at school they called a special assembly so they could talk to us about it.  I heard on the news that they said something like that could happen here. I hope there aren’t any more attacks any time soon.

Take care and stay safe.

Brittany


 

Brittany sounded scared, and I felt a little worried for her.  She lived in Amarillo, Texas, directly west of Oklahoma City. I had never met her personally; we met in a chat room last summer, when I first got this computer.  That was the first time I had the technology to communicate online with someone in another state, and she had stayed in touch ever since. She was a year younger than me, just finishing high school.

I wrote back later that night.

 


My day was pretty good.  I just went to classes. I had a math midterm today.  I think I did well. I’m taking vector analysis this quarter.  I’d never really heard of that before this class, but so far it seems pretty easy.

I did hear about the bombing… that’s scary.  You don’t hear about things like that happening in places like Oklahoma City.  I’m sure it’s a lot more scary for you since you’re not very far away. I hope nothing happens to you… if something did happen and you ever needed a place to go, maybe you could come stay with me.

I hope you have a better day tomorrow.

-gjd


 

I wasn’t sure why I wrote that last part.  Could Brittany really come stay with me? Probably not, because all I had was a dorm room.  And we didn’t really even know each other, although we had been exchanging emails for eight months.  But she was a girl, and I wanted to meet her, and hey, you never know. Brittany wrote back the next day and thanked me for my kind offer, although she also said she probably wouldn’t be allowed to stay in my dorm.  We never did meet in person. We lost touch sometime in the middle of sophomore year.

 

A few days after the bombing in Oklahoma City, while it was still fresh in everyone’s memory, I was sitting in Psych-Law class, waiting for Dr. Kemp to arrive.  Dan Woodward walked in about a minute after me. Dan lived on the third floor, and he was politically outspoken and involved in a number of political groups on campus.  His views mostly disagreed with mine, so I didn’t often seek out conversations with him, although I didn’t avoid him either. But I clearly remember what he said when he walked into the classroom that day.

“There was a bombing in Capital City,” Dan said.

“What?” Gina Stalteri asked loudly.

“Someone mailed a package bomb to a political group’s office, and somebody died.”

Everyone else just kind of sat in silence for a minute or so until Dr. Kemp entered the room and started class.  This news story was definitely close to home, both literally and emotionally. Oklahoma City was halfway across the country, but this bombing happened only 15 miles away.  It was just as unusual to hear of this kind of thing happening here as it was in Oklahoma City.

The next morning, reading the Capital City Record, I read more about the mail bomb.  It was the work of a well-known serial bomber who had been responsible for numerous other similar attacks off and on since the 1970s.  His most recent attack had been four months earlier in New Jersey. The FBI referred to this terrorist as “the Unabomber.” The nickname was shortened from “university airline bomber,” because many of his attacks targeted people at universities and airlines.  In 1987, he was seen planting a bomb in Utah, having concealed his face with a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses. A witness contacted a police sketch artist, and a picture of this sketch appeared here on the front page of the Record.  I noticed that my dad had a pair of sunglasses that looked very similar to the Unabomber’s sunglasses, although the rest of the picture did not look much like my dad.


The Unabomber sketch, which I got from Wikipedia in 2019.

The Unabomber often targeted people at universities; was Jeromeville in danger?  Could the Unabomber strike here, especially since he had struck in Capital City? The article said that one of his previous bombs, in 1985, had also been mailed to Capital City; maybe he had some connection to this area?  As scary as it was to think about, there wasn’t much I could do about anything, other than be wary of suspicious packages.

 

The Unabomber would be in the news many more times over the next year or so.  I will come back to that story another time.  George Franklin didn’t really come up a lot more in my life; in Psychology and the Law class, we didn’t really talk a whole lot about his conviction being overturned.  His case wasn’t the entire focal point of the class. We had a lot of other things to talk about.

About a decade later, I would make a personal connection with the bombing in Oklahoma City.  The site had been turned into a memorial and museum, which I eventually visited when I was traveling.  It was a moving and memorable experience. I think the connection to this place felt stronger than with most historical sites I’ve visited, because I was old enough to remember when the event happened.  (The suspect who was caught on the day of the bombing was found guilty and received the death penalty; another co-conspirator is currently serving life in prison.)

okc
The grounds of the memorial include sculptures of 168 chairs, each inscribed with the name of one of the 168 victims.  I took this picture when I was there in 2005.

My career as a paperboy lasted nine months, and the reason I quit was so typical of me.  The Gabilan News office ran a contest for its paper carriers, where over a period of three months, we would be entered into a drawing for a new Nintendo Entertainment System.  Each month, paper carriers would be entered into the contest if their number of complaints was below a certain limit. But the contest was horribly unfair, because the number of complaints each carrier was allowed was based on the average number of complaints that carrier usually received in a month.  Someone like me, who rarely got complaints, was not allowed to get any, whereas someone incompetent would be allowed up to four complaints before getting disqualified from the contest. I told my supervisor that this was unfair, and he probably assumed I was just some pretentious kid who wasn’t able to make a logical argument, so instead of leveling the playing field and taking away the disadvantage from those of us who tried to do a good job, he just told me that I would be allowed one complaint instead of none.  So as soon as I got my second complaint, disqualifying me from the contest, I gave my notice that I was quitting, and I used my money from my last month to buy my own Nintendo, which I still have, and which sometimes still works over 30 years later.

Although my middle school career as a paperboy ended poorly, I’ve still to this day always been a news reader, rather than a television news watcher.  I stopped getting a printed newspaper delivered in 2012, because money was tight and I was looking to cut expenses. I read news online now. I miss newspapers.  It hurts for me to say that the newspaper is a dying medium. Print newspapers still exist, and I suppose I could go back to having a print newspaper delivered to my house.  However, I have become used to not having a print newspaper, and honestly I never did read every article, so it would be a bit wasteful having a print newspaper every day.

I was dismayed to read in 2013 that the print edition of the University of Jeromeville’s Daily Colt newspaper had been completely discontinued, with the Daily Colt continuing to exist only as an online news site.  A few years later, though, a student referendum raised fees slightly to bring back the print edition of the Daily Colt.  The current Daily Colt is only printed weekly, despite the name.  Sometimes, when I find myself on the UJ campus these days, I’ll grab a copy of the Daily Colt, so I can keep up with what is happening on campus these days.  And just like I used to do between classes in the 1990s, I always do the crossword puzzle.

Sometimes it feels like there is so much bad news in the world that I wonder if I would be better off not following the news at all.  But as with many things in life, balance is key. I don’t need to dwell on the negative. But it is also important to know what is going on in the world.  I fear for the future sometimes when I hear people say that they don’t follow the news, and that they have not heard about important things that affect all of us.  I don’t know. I try to stay out of those kinds of arguments. Sometimes people need to know the truth, but it is so exhausting trying to argue with an angry and opinionated person.

And in hindsight, the news wasn’t all bad during this era.  The last few years had seen the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and Apartheid in South Africa.  The first state governor I had ever voted for won. And the Internet revolution was just beginning. It was an exciting time to be alive, and I had my newspapers to read about what was going on around me, to help me understand myself in relation to the rest of the world.