March 1, 1995. Exploring.

The weather for the last few days here in Jeromeville had been unusually pleasant.  It had been a wet winter, with large puddles appearing all over on campus. After almost four months of some combination of cool, cold, overcast, and rainy weather, the sun had finally come out, and temperatures approached 80 degrees.  I was sick of winter, and this felt really nice.

I walked into Building C, unlocked the door to Room 221, and put my backpack down.  I needed to work more on that paper for the South Africa class, and I had a pre-lab to write before chemistry tomorrow.  I got out my textbook and lab notebook and started reading about tomorrow’s experiment. I usually kept my window curtain closed, but today I opened it, so I could see the sunny sky outside, beyond the skyline formed by the tall trees of the Arboretum.

I wrote my name, date, and section number on the top of my lab report paper.  That was as far as I got. I didn’t belong here in this room today.

I got on my bike and started riding south toward the Arboretum.  I crossed the creek and turned right, past the Lodge and the grassy area surrounding it.  The Arboretum Lodge was an event hall-like building that held various conferences and fancy luncheons and such.  The day before classes started, the Interdisciplinary Honors Program hosted an event at the Lodge where all of us in the program got to meet some of the professors we would work with this year.  I remember meeting Dr. Dick Small, the professor for the South Africa class I was currently taking, at that event. I remember because you just don’t forget meeting someone with a name like Dr. Dick Small.

The banks of the creek became steeper, and the trail climbed and descended a few times, by about fifteen feet, as I continued west through a grove of pine trees.  Eventually the trail climbed to the top of an earthen dam, making a 180 degree turn from the south bank to the north bank. The creek running down the middle of the Arboretum was actually a very long and narrow lake, not a creek at all, collecting storm drain water in a dry creek bed that had been dammed at both ends.  Arroyo Verde Creek had been diverted a century ago, before the university existed, to direct floodwaters away from the town of Jeromeville, which at the time had a population of around 1000.

Some people say that they are bothered by the term “ATM machine,” because the M in ATM already stands for machine, so “ATM machine” actually means “automated teller machine machine.”  I felt the same way about the name Arroyo Verde Creek, which translates from Spanish as “Green Creek Creek.”

At the west end of the Arboretum, on the north bank, was a grassy park-like area with benches.  To my left was a grove of oaks, different kinds of oaks from all over the world, without the landscaping of the lawn area that I was riding through.  I stopped to look at the oak grove, which had a wild, rustic look to it, somewhat out of place on a large university campus, but in a good way. I saw giant towering valley oaks from California with moss on the bark, gnarled white oaks from the East Coast, wide spreading live oaks from the Deep South, European cork oaks with thick pockmarked and ridged bark, and many others.  Some of the oaks were types that kept their leaves through the winter; others had shed their leaves and looked like they were just beginning to sprout for the upcoming spring.

Instead of continuing east on the north bank of the Arboretum, I turned left on Thompson Drive and crossed an overpass to the west side of Highway 117.  Highway 117 runs north-south through Jeromeville below the elevation of the surrounding land, so that roads crossing the freeway become overpasses without having to climb upward.  I knew that there was an overpass here, but I had never been on Thompson Drive west of 117.

The University of Jeromeville was founded in 1905 as an extension campus of the University of the Bay, specifically for agricultural research.  The Bay campus is in the middle of an urban area, with water on one side and mountains on the other, and nowhere to actually practice farming. Agriculture was and still is a major industry on the other side of those mountains, so the university regents chose a small town called Jeromeville as the site of their new agricultural campus.  The Jeromeville campus grew over the years, eventually adding academic departments other than just agriculture and becoming an independent university within the same system as Bay, Santa Teresa, and San Angelo. The campus, as it is now ninety years later, primarily exists in the space between 117 and downtown Jeromeville, but the majority of the campus property actually lies west of 117, on three square miles of fields used for agricultural research.

This is what I saw before me now as I crossed to the other side of 117.  Despite the history of the campus, most UJ students today get degrees in subjects that are not related to agriculture, and many of these people barely know, or don’t know at all, that the part of the campus west of 117 exists.  On my right was a field of what appeared to be corn, and a patch of dirt with nothing growing and a mysterious-looking building off of a side road. On the left, the dry bed of the former creek had been fenced off and used as a sheep pasture.  The road on this side of campus was notably rougher, probably because it gets much less traffic.

A street called Environmental Lane branched off to the right, past a number of buildings with metal siding, a few buildings that resembled portable classrooms, and some kind of large radio tower.  I never did learn what those buildings were used for.

Thompson Drive then crossed the dry creek bed and turned along the south bank of the creek, making a wide gradual turn to the left following the creek.  A grape vineyard was on the left, and a bunch of very tall trees stood along the creek bed to the right. Next to a large oak tree on the left were a cluster of benches and what appeared to be those white boxes that beekeepers used.  I could see the creek bed on the right through the trees at some places, and at one place there was a pool with marshy-looking plants growing in it.

Thompson Drive ended at a T-intersection with a road called Arroyo Verde Road.  The road was gravel to the left and paved to the right. Arroyo Verde Road ran alongside the actual free-flowing Arroyo Verde Creek; where I was right now appeared to be the point where the creek was originally diverted from its original flow.  I turned right onto the paved section, crossing the dry fork of the creek for the last time today. A cluster of tall, leafy trees grew on both sides of the road, with their leaves and branches partially hanging over the road. Beyond this, on the right, was a small building with a sign that said “Aquatic Weed Research Facility.”  That would explain the marshy-looking pool.

I rode past more grape vineyards, corn fields, and fruit tree orchards on the right, and the small trees typical of a creekside riparian area on the left.  I felt very peaceful out here. Had I not known, I never would have guessed that this bucolic country lane was part of a large bustling university full of people and bicycles trying to avoid running into each other.  My unwritten paper and all the studying I had to do faded from my mind as I watched the trees and fields pass by around me.

  About half a mile ahead, Arroyo Verde Road became unpaved again, with a paved road called Hawkins Road branching off to the right, heading north.  Hawkins Road was lined with very old olive trees on each side, and pits and bits of olive flesh, remnants of years of uncultivated fruit production, had fallen along the sides of the road.  (I would read years later in the alumni magazine that the university had begun making olive oil from these olives and selling it at the campus store. That was a great idea, but it wasn’t happening yet in 1995.)

Most of the buildings on the west side of campus lie along or just off of Hawkins Road, behind the row of olive trees.  Some of them had signs indicating that they were used for very specific purposes; the signs said things like Honey Bee Research Facility, Historical Agricultural Machinery Collection, and University Plant Services.  I also saw a large group of cows and pigs at feedlots on a side road to the right.

Hawkins Road was a little over a mile long, and it ended at Davis Drive, the main east-west road on campus.  I had driven and biked on this part of Davis Drive before, but today was the first time I had seen any part of the west side of campus other than Davis Drive.  I turned right, heading east toward 117 and the main part of campus, but then I turned left on the next cross street, Olive Way. Olive Way was about ten feet wide, only open to bicycles and pedestrians, and like Hawkins Road, it was lined with olive trees on both sides and littered with remnants of fallen olives.  I headed north on Olive Way. There were no buildings on Olive Way, just fields behind the olive trees. I passed by someone running with her dog; I said hi, and she said hi back.

Olive Way ended at West Fifth Street, the northern boundary of the campus.  The street was lined with walnut trees along the south side that lined the campus agricultural area, and another bike trail ran between the walnut trees and the fields.  I turned right and followed the trail east, back across Highway 117, then turned right at Andrews Road and headed home from there.

I walked back into the building.  Taylor, Pete, and Sarah were sitting in the common room, the two boys apparently making puns with Sarah’s names.

“I’m dying!  Sarah doctor in the house?” Taylor said.

“Sarah way I could get my order to go?” Pete said, chuckling.

“Come on, guys,” Sarah said.

“My pants don’t fit.  I need a Taylor,” I said.  “What’s that? I can’t hear, because your voice Petered out.”

“Yeah,” Sarah added, glaring at the boys.  All of us started laughing.

“What are you up to?” Taylor asked.  “Just getting back from class?”

“Actually, I got back an hour ago,” I explained.  “I was on my bike, exploring the west side of campus.  I went out Thompson Drive and Arroyo Verde Road and Hawkins Road.”

“I have no idea where any of those are,” Pete said.

“What’s out there?” Taylor asked.

“Fields, and big trees, and the real Arroyo Verde Creek.  The free-flowing one, not the fake one in the Arboretum. And what looks like agricultural research facilities.  And sheep and cows,” I said.

“Interesting,” Sarah said.  “I never thought about what’s out there.  But you seem like you would. You and your maps and roads and stuff.”

“Exactly.  It’s who I am.”

“And that’s what makes you special.”

“Yeah.”

“And it’s such a nice day today!  A perfect day for a bike ride.”

“I know.  I hope the weather stays like this for a while.”

The weather did not stay like that for a while.  What I would realize over the next few years was that around late February or early March, Jeromeville and the surrounding area always experience a weather phenomenon that I’ve come to call Fake Spring.  For about a week or two, the weather turns pleasantly warm and sunny, but then it cools off again with usually a few more significant rainstorms occasionally passing through during the rest of March and April.  I always enjoyed Fake Spring while it lasted, though; it was a nice break from the cool weather, and the sunshine and lack of chill in the air always seemed to make me happier.

I sat downstairs talking to Taylor and Pete and Sarah for a while, and we all went to the dining commons together for dinner.  The sun had just set, leaving a spectacular pink-orange glow to the west, spotted with a few lines of small puffy clouds. All felt right with the world today.  I was at peace, and I had plenty of time later to deal with the lab write-up, and next week to deal with the South Africa paper, and all my life to deal with the fact that I still felt like a scared little kid with no idea how to make it in this big scary world.  But I had found a happy place. Today was a good day.

2019 hawkins road
Hawkins Road, photographed in 2019.  This is still my happy place, when I happen to be in Jeromeville with time to kill.

 

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February 23-26, 1995. Shooting the moon and a penalty for talking.

One evening, I had been eating at the dining hall by myself. Two girls I didn’t know, one blonde and one with short red hair, were sitting at the table next to me, speaking loudly enough that it was impossible not to overhear their conversation.

“So how’s Justin?” Blondie asked.

“I don’t think he’s interested,” Red said. “Oh my god, we’ve been on three dates, and he hasn’t even made a move yet. All we did last night was make out.”

“How long have you known him?”

“Almost two weeks. When I was with Shane, we were already sleeping together at this point.”

“Hmm. I thought Justin seemed really into you.”

“I thought so too. I guess not. I don’t think I’m going to call him back. What about you? How’s What’s-his-face?”

“Ryan,” Blondie said. “I really like him, but he’s too clingy. He called me today.”

“Eww!”

“Like, we just went out yesterday. He didn’t even wait three days.”

“Who does that? Why is he calling you back the next day?”

“I know, right?”

None of that conversation made any sense to me. If Blondie really liked Ryan, why was it a problem that he called her the next day? Wouldn’t she want to talk to him? Is this waiting three days thing really a rule? And does anyone write these rules down? And sleeping with a guy you’ve only known two weeks is not normal to me. Sleeping together is for husbands and wives. I would have said that Justin moved too fast, making out on the third date, and apparently he moves too slowly for these girls. People are confusing. I wished I knew Justin and Ryan, so that I could tell them they dodged bullets.

I came back to my room and did homework for chemistry, even though it was Thursday night and the assignment wasn’t due until Monday. Homework wasn’t even graded for that class, but I always did it anyway. I liked chemistry, and I didn’t want to fail. After I finished, I checked email, and I didn’t have anything, probably because I had just checked it before dinner. Molly from Pennsylvania wrote me this morning, but I didn’t really feel like replying yet. I didn’t have much to say.

I walked down the hall. No one had their doors open, and I didn’t want to bother anyone. So I climbed to the third floor. I heard voices coming from Taylor Santiago’s room, and one of the voices was loud and enthusiastic enough that I recognized it as belonging to Mike Adams.

“Hey, guys,” I said, poking my head in the door. Taylor, his roommate David, Mike, and Gina Stalteri were sitting around a table playing some kind of card game, using an ordinary 52-card deck. “What are you playing?” I asked.

“Hearts,” Taylor replied. “If you want in, you can take my place after this game. I need a break.”

“I don’t know this game.”

“I’ll teach you after this round is over. It’s not hard to learn.”

I watched as the others played. Hearts appeared to be a trick-taking game, where each player plays a card, and one player takes the trick according to some rule about certain cards outranking others. I hadn’t played games like this often, but I knew of their existence. There appeared to be some special rules other than just the highest card winning, though. Twice during the game, the others seemed to react strongly: the first time a heart was played, and again when Mike played the queen of spades. David took that trick, and the others’ reaction made me think that this was a bad thing, although I was unsure why.

After the game, Taylor explained more about the game. He explained about following suit, and breaking hearts, and how the object was to avoid taking a trick with a heart or the queen of spades (“the bitch,” as Mike called it). Each heart was worth one point, and the queen of spades 13 points, and the object was to have a low score.

“You want to take a turn?” Taylor asked me.

“Jump in, Greg,” Gina said.

I took Taylor’s seat at the table; he got on his bed and watched us from there. After the first three rounds, I had no hearts, and I thought I was in good shape. I led the fourth hand with the ten of clubs; David played the nine of clubs, Mike played the five of clubs, and Gina played the jack of hearts. Gina apparently had no clubs left, which enabled her to play a different suit, and now that a heart had been played, players could lead the hand by playing hearts first. I played a diamond next, and apparently Mike had no diamonds, because he played the queen of spades. I was stuck with the worst card in the game, and I also ended the game with six hearts.

“Play again?” Mike asked.

“Sure,” I said. Now that I had played once, I was starting to think about strategy, although part of the game just depended on what cards you were dealt. In the second game, I finished with five hearts, but David got stuck with the queen of spades. The third time we played, I only got three hearts.

Gina took a break after that game, and Taylor took her spot at the table. We played for almost another hour before the others decided that they had things to do. I walked back to my room, hoping that more games of Hearts would happen soon. That was fun.

 

The next night, I saw Liz make eye contact with me at the dining commons. “Hey, Greg,” she said, smiling and gesturing to an empty seat next to her. “Come sit with us.”

I put my tray of food down at the empty seat next to Liz. Ramon, Caroline, Tabitha from Building B, Taylor, Pete, and Mike from Building J were all at the same table, and I had taken the last open seat.

“How’s it going?” Taylor asked.

“Pretty good,” I replied. “Glad it’s the weekend.”

“I think everyone is,” Ramon said.

“Did you have class today?” Liz asked.

“I did,” I replied. “Just math and chem today. So I spent the afternoon in the library, starting to work on my paper for Dr. Small’s class.”

“Why?” Pete asked. “That isn’t due for a long time.”

“Because it’s a six- to eight-page paper. I need time to do research and get my ideas organized.”

“When I have to do a six- to eight-page paper, I usually start around eight o’clock the night before,” Taylor said, chuckling.

“Me too,” Caroline agreed, “if not later. You don’t need to be stressing about that paper yet. Just relax and have a great weekend, and worry about the paper later.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, frustrated. “That’s just not the way my brain works. I can’t do a six- to eight-page paper at the last minute.”

“You don’t just BS your papers?” Tabitha asked.

“No. I can’t.”

“That’s too bad.”

I stopped talking for a while and listened to the others as the topic changed. I wished that I could BS my way through six- to eight-page papers like pretty much every other college student ever. Apparently that was some kind of unwritten rule of college. But I was honest when I told Caroline that my brain didn’t work that way. I couldn’t do a good job on a paper if I didn’t actually learn about the material. And even outside of school, I wasn’t good at faking things.

I started listening again when I heard my name. “Greg?” Liz asked. “What are you doing tonight?”

“Probably nothing. What about you guys? You have that Christian group tonight, right?”

“Yeah. JCF. You want to come with us?”

I paused. “I don’t know. Maybe another time.”

“That’s ok. You’re always welcome to come with us.”

Later that night, as I was sitting in front of the computer on an IRC chat trying to get girls to talk to me, I thought about that conversation with Liz. That group had invited me to come to the Jeromeville Christian Fellowship multiple times in the last few months, and I had always turned them down. Liz said I would always be welcome in that group, but I just wasn’t convinced. I was Catholic, and I knew that some Protestants and other Christians often said that Catholics were wrong and not real Christians. And were the JCF students the kind of Christians that were basically like Catholics but without recognizing the Papacy, or were they the kind who danced and clapped with the music, or did they all wear suits and ties and long skirts everywhere they went? I didn’t know. And I’d never really thought of myself as a church guy. Yes, I’ve been to Mass most Sundays since I’ve been in Jeromeville, but back home my church attendance was very sporadic. And church guys certainly didn’t spend their Friday nights sitting in front of an IRC chat hoping that some girl would come along and want to talk dirty.

 

The next morning, I woke up early but stayed in bed until almost nine o’clock. After I got back from using the bathroom, I replied to the email I got yesterday from Molly from Pennsylvania. I told her about playing Hearts and starting my paper, and asked her how her midterm went. My life wasn’t exactly very thrilling at the moment. After that, I spent at least an hour staring at the same IRC chat I was in last night, hoping that SweetGirl4 would get on and talk dirty to me like she did last night. She didn’t.

At one point in the middle of the afternoon, I went downstairs and heard voices in the common room. Pete, Taylor, Caroline, Liz, Ramon, Krista, and Charlie were playing some kind of card game, using what appeared to be three standard 52-card decks with different backs, shuffled together. “What are you playing?” I asked as I approached them. No one answered. Liz looked at me with her finger on her lips, motioning for me to be quiet. I sat quietly and watched their game.

The game play seemed to be similar to Uno and Crazy Eights, playing cards that matched the suit or rank of the previous one. But every once in a while, Taylor would say “Penalty!” and give the player an extra card. Sometimes Taylor would give back the card that was just played, and other times he would leave it on the top of the deck. At one point, Ramon placed a two of hearts on top of a six of hearts, and Krista, whose turn was next, played a three of hearts. But Taylor gave her a penalty and gave her the three of hearts back along with her penalty card. After about three more seconds, Taylor gave Krista another penalty, saying, “Penalty for not saying thank you.”

“Thank you,” Krista said indignantly.

Taylor then turned to Liz and gave her a card. “Penalty for delay of game,” he said.

“Wha–Thank you,” Liz said, interrupting her initial confusion over why she was being penalized.

“Point of order,” Krista said. Everyone put their cards face down on the table. “Ramon played last. So it’s my turn.”

“Ramon played this,” Pete explained, pointing at the two of hearts on the top of the stack. “Right?”

“Correct,” Taylor said, in an authoritative tone of voice. “So Krista played improperly, and Liz got a penalty for delay of game. No further discussion is necessary. End point–”

“Wait,” Liz interrupted, turning to me. “Greg, to answer your question from earlier, this game is called Mao.”

“Mao?” I asked. “Like the dictator?”

“Yes. I can’t tell you any more.”

“Watch and pay attention, and you’ll figure out what’s going on,” Taylor said. “End point of order.” Everyone picked up their cards. Liz played a nine of hearts, and then Caroline played a nine of spades, knocking on the table and saying “Nine of spades” without getting a penalty for talking. Taylor played a three of spades, saying, “Three of spades.”

Based on the assumption that Mao was derived from Uno or Crazy Eights, I had already discovered a few things. I thought I might had figured out why it was Liz’s turn and not Krista’s turn when that first point of order was called. Also, apparently, talking was not allowed, except in certain situations which I had yet to deduce.

The game I was watching ended when Pete played his last card and said, “Mao.” By that time, I had figured out a few more rules, specifically why the players sometimes would name the card they played, and that you have to say “thank you” after receiving a penalty card.

“You want in, Greg?” Taylor asked.

“Sure,” I said. “I’m not really sure what I’m doing.”

“That’s ok. But I can’t tell you the rules.”

“I kind of figured something like that, because of all the penalties, and the way your discussions were so vague.”

Taylor began dealing cards to all of us. I reached down to pick up my first card and look at it; Taylor interrupted me and said, “Penalty for touching the cards early.” He gave me an extra card, which I thanked him for. Apparently I’m not allowed to do that. After everyone had been dealt seven cards, or eight, in my case, we picked up the cards and began playing. I was between Charlie and Pete. Charlie played a four of diamonds and said, “George.” I thought I had this game figured out, but there was no one named George anywhere nearby, and I hadn’t yet figured out a rule involving saying George.

“Four of spades,” I said, playing on top of Charlie’s four of diamonds.

“Two penalties,” Taylor said, handing me two cards, which I thanked him for. He did not make me take my four of spades back, though, so the penalty apparently had to do with what I said, not with the card I played. Two things I said, specifically, or perhaps didn’t say. The turn order had reversed by the time of my next turn, so my turn came after Pete’s. He played a jack of clubs and said “Hearts.” I couldn’t remember what to do on a jack, but hearing what Pete said, and guessing because of similarities with Uno, I very hesitantly played a five of hearts, slowly placing it on the pile. I received no penalty, even though the card did not match the jack of clubs. This was the first time I had not been penalized.

Taylor won that game eventually. By the third game I had played that day, I had figured out quite a bit more. I knew what was going on with the jacks. I was pretty sure I knew which cards were like the Skip and Draw Two cards in Uno. I knew when to knock on the table. And I was starting to figure out what had gone wrong with my four of spades play from the first game. There was still something going on with playing a 10, and I hadn’t figured that one out yet, but in this particular game, I had not drawn a 10 yet. I was getting all the cards I needed, and playing by all the rules I understood by now. I had two cards left, a four of spades and a jack of hearts. The cards being played were neither spades nor hearts, but I got extraordinarily fortunate when Krista played a four of clubs, saying “Ringo,” and Charlie played a four of hearts, knocking on the table and saying “Paul.” I had finally figured out who these names were and which cards to play them on, and I knew when to knock. It was time to see if I had learned well enough to do this correctly.

“Four of spades, John,” I said, knocking and putting the four of spades on top of the deck. No penalty. On the next time around the board, Charlie played a jack of diamonds. “Hearts,” he said. It was my turn, and I had exactly one card, and it was a heart. I triumphantly placed my jack of hearts on top of the stack.

“NEVER EVER EVER PLAY A JACK ON TOP OF ANOTHER JACK!!!” all seven of the other players began chanting loudly in unison. Taylor gave me penalty cards continuously through the chant, ten cards in all.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Also, another penalty for not ending the game. And for something else.”

“Thank you, thank you,” I said, trying to organize my brand new hand of twelve cards. Caroline won that game a few rounds later, and I politely excused myself to go back to my room. I found that Mao was a fascinating concept for a game, but it was so frustrating, and I still didn’t understand parts of it.

 

Later that night, I was on an IRC chat. Internet Relay Chat was a very decentralized system with no one specifically enforcing rules or anything like that. Certain people would be designated as operators (“ops” for short) in a chat channel, and they had the power to kick people out who were being obnoxious or inappropriate. The first person to create a channel would be an op by default, and usually the major channels had a group of people who would automatically be made ops whenever they were in the channel. Op privileges could be given temporarily as well, as had been given to me for the first time a few weeks ago by a guy named “JimK” who would occasionally engage me in small talk in the channel.

Tonight, I was in my usual room, “#friendlychat,” asking SweetGirl4 in private messages about her day, and about what she was wearing. I was picturing her in the pajama top and panties that she had described when I noticed that JimK had made me an op again. I thanked him and started making more of an effort to talk to people in the chat channel. I was now officially an operator of the channel, and I should act like it instead of just lurking in private messages. I didn’t ignore SweetGirl4, though.

About fifteen minutes later, someone new entered the channel.

Todd3 has entered the room
<JimK> welcome todd3
<gregd94> hi todd
<cc> what’s up todd
<Todd3> can someone make me an op

JimK was nice enough to make me an op, so I figured I would extend the favor to someone else. I typed the command to make Todd3 an op, and half a second later, he removed everyone else’s op privileges and kicked all of us out. Oops. That was officially the dumbest thing I had ever done on the Internet so far, even dumber than the time I forwarded a bunch of chain letters, or the time I used a fake name to play a mean-spirited prank on Schuyler Jenkins upstairs.

While I looked for a new channel to join, I continued my private conversation.

gregd94: oooh i pull your body close to me and kiss your lips passionately
SweetGirl4: u stupid f***ing noob u got us all kicked out. dont ever talk to me again.

I noticed a new channel called “#friendlychat1” and joined it; it appeared to be all of the people whom Todd3 had kicked out of #friendlychat. I joined the chat and apologized to everyone; a few people ignored me, and the rest had mean replies, some of which made SweetGirl4’s reply sound nice by comparison.

I deserved it, though. I didn’t understand that being a channel operator is a responsibility, not just a status symbol. Operator privileges are not to be handed out lightly to one’s buddies, or even worse, to complete strangers. I didn’t fully understand my responsibilities as an operator, and I didn’t fully understand the kinds of jerks that trolled the Internet.

 

The next day was Sunday. After dinner, I was in Taylor’s room playing Hearts again. Taylor, Mike Adams, Keith, and I were playing, with David and Karen and Pat watching. Keith, who had not been there on Thursday when I first learned the game, had taken the first heart, and Taylor took the next trick with no hearts in it.

Taylor led the next hand with a five of diamonds. Mike played the four of diamonds, and Keith played the seven of diamonds. I had no diamonds, so I played the queen of spades.

“Oooooh!” the entire room shouted.

“Keith gets the Bitch!” Mike enthusiastically proclaimed.

As the game continued, I couldn’t believe my luck. I had not taken a single heart, and it seemed like poor Keith, who had been in last place going into this round, was getting all the hearts. The game would be over after this round with Keith getting all of those points, and while my total score wasn’t the best, it was a close second, the best I had done so far.

“What did we get?” I asked as the last trick was taken.

“Did he do it?” Mike wondered aloud.

“I think he did,” Taylor said, as Keith spread out the queen of spades and all thirteen hearts on the table.

“He shot the moon,” Mike said. I watched Mike write 26 points in Keith’s column on the score sheet… except he didn’t. He wrote 0 for Keith, and 26 for the rest of us.

“Good job,” Taylor said to Keith.

What was going on? Keith got 26 points, not the rest of us. Keith lost; he didn’t finish in first place with the lowest score. I didn’t understand. No one had ever told me about shooting the moon, that if a player finished the game with all thirteen hearts and the queen of spades, that player scores 0 and the other players all score 26 points. I was about to say something when I realized that apparently this was a rule that everyone else knew except for me. I was too embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know the rule, since I would have been able to stop him and at least take one heart had I known about this. I didn’t stick around for another game; I just made an excuse to get out of there as soon as possible.

I walked to the other end of the hall and into the stairwell to go downstairs to my room. I heard voices above me, and I looked up to investigate. This stairwell went up to a locked door leading to the roof; someone who lived here in the past had written “Stairway to Heaven” in chalk on the front of the steps. Danielle, Caroline, Pete, and Charlie were sitting on the Stairway to Heaven, just talking.

“Hey, Greg,” Danielle said, scooting over to make room for me. “Come join us.” I sat next to Danielle, and she leaned her curly-haired head on my shoulder, taking me by surprise. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I was just playing Hearts, and Keith shot the moon.”

“Shot the moon?”

“He took all of the hearts, and the other players get points instead of Keith,” Pete explained. “Points are bad in Hearts.”

“I could have stopped him,” I said. “But no one ever told me about that rule.”

“It’s just a game,” Danielle replied.

“I know. But I’m just frustrated. Like that Mao game you guys were playing yesterday, I still don’t get all of it. And I did something really stupid on the Internet that made a bunch of people mad.”

“What did you do?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Well, I’m sure it’s not a big deal. Just hang in there.”

“The whole point of Mao is to learn the rules as you go along,” Caroline added. “And sometimes that’s just how life is.”

“I guess you’re right. It’s just frustrating that I seem to know so much less about how life works in general.”

“Don’t get down about that,” Danielle said, smiling. “Everyone is still learning about life.”

“None of us were born knowing everything about life,” Caroline said. “I moved here from Australia when I was 12. I didn’t think it was going to be a big transition, because I spoke English, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.”

Pete looked at me. “You’re doing fine. Just don’t let this get you down.”

I stayed in that stairwell for about another half hour talking to them, then I went back to my room. Life seems to have so many unwritten rules, and even though Pete and Caroline were right that no one knows all the rules, they all seemed to know so much more than I did. I grew up so sheltered, and I don’t read unspoken communication very well. This world, where having sex with someone you just met, waiting three days to talk to someone you like, and writing a six- to eight-page paper at the last minute are considered normal, was very strange to me. For that matter, even Danielle putting her head on my shoulder was strange to me.

But I was learning, and I was finding my place. I had new friends here in Building C, and there was nothing to do at this point except start learning these things that everyone else seemed to know. And, much like with the game Mao, I would learn by watching what other people do, and there would be much trial and error involved, and probably a few hilariously awkward moments along the way.


Author’s note from 2019: I have an Instagram specifically for this site now, so go follow me! www.instagram.com/greg_dontletthedaysgoby/


 

February 19, 1995. Mom and Dad and Mark visit Jeromeville.

Building C was quiet at ten-thirty on that Sunday morning.  I had just written emails to Brittany from Texas and Molly from Pennsylvania.  It was also my turn to email Renee, my friend from high school. I opened the message and reread what she had written about yesterday.  I figured I might not have time to write back right now, because I was expecting guests, and I needed to go down to the common room to let them in.  But as I was reading Renee’s email, I heard a knock at the door, and I opened the door to see my expected guests in the hallway.

“Hi, Greg,” Mom said, giving me a hug, which I returned.

“Hi,” I replied.  “How’d you guys get in?”

“Tall curly-haired guy let us in,” Dad said.

“Jonathan,” Mom added.  “He was downstairs studying.  Do you know Jonathan?”

“Um, yeah,” I said.  “Don’t you remember how the IHP works?  You guys came to that preview day last year.  Everyone in this building has classes together.  Come in,” I said, gesturing for Mom, Dad, and Mark to come into the room.

“I know that,” Mom continued.  “I meant, is Jonathan your friend?  Do you talk to him?”

“I guess,” I said, a little confused about where Mom was going with this line of questioning.  “I mean, we don’t talk a lot, but I don’t ignore him either.”

“Why is this important?” Mark interrupted loudly.  Until that moment, he had just been standing quietly in the background.

“Good point.  Is it time to go to church yet?” Mom asked.

“Mass starts at eleven,” I said.  “We should probably leave in about ten or fifteen minutes.  We don’t want to be late.”

“Can we just sit around until then?” Dad asked.  “I’m tired from the drive.”

I sat on the bed, Mark sat next to me, Dad sat in the desk chair, and Mom stood near the closet.  We talked mostly about my classes for the next ten minutes until it was time to leave.

“Are we dressed okay for church?” Mom asked.  She was wearing a long sleeve shirt and slacks.  Dad wore a sweater, with jeans and Birkenstocks. Mark wore a solid color t-shirt and jeans. “You’ve been going to church all your life.  Why would this one be different?”

“I don’t know.”

“If anything, people would dress more casually, because this is Jeromeville, with a lot of college students.”

“You’re fine,” Dad said.  “Let’s go.”

We walked out of the building and turned toward the parking lot.  “What’s that smell?” Mark asked.

“That’s the dairy over there.”  I pointed at the buildings across the street from Building C.  “It’s cows.”

“Later on today, I want you to give us a tour of the campus,” Mom said.  “I still haven’t seen all of it, and there’s a lot I don’t remember.”

“We’ll do that after lunch,” I said.

Danielle saw us as soon as we entered the church building.  “Hey, Greg,” she said. “Is this your family?”

“Yes.  This is my mom, and my dad, and my brother Mark.”  I turned to my family and said, “This is Danielle. She lives down the hall in room 216.”

“Nice to meet you,” Mom said.

“Can you save me a seat?” Danielle asked.

“Sure,” I said.  Turning to Mom, I explained, “She sings in the choir.  She’ll sit with us during the homily.” Mom nodded.

During the Gospel reading, Mom nudged me.  She was pointing at a tall guy in the choir with dark hair and features that suggested mixed European and Asian heritage.  “Is that Matt Jones?” she whispered. I shrugged my shoulders and gave her a confused look. “He’s from Gabilan. He’s Josh Jones’ brother.”

“You’re talking during the reading,” I whispered, as Danielle, the guy who might have been Matt Jones, and the rest of the choir sang the Alleluia at the end of the Gospel reading.  Mom turned to Mark and continued whispering, probably asking whether Mark knew if that guy was Matt Jones.

Josh Jones and Mark were on a baseball team together a few years earlier.  Or maybe it was a basketball team; I don’t really remember. I don’t remember ever meeting the Joneses, but Mom had told me at some point that Josh Jones had an older brother named Matt who was a year ahead of me at UC Davis.  I think Matt Jones had gone to St. Luke’s High School in Gabilan, a Catholic school, so it made sense that he might be at a Catholic Mass. However, many students at St. Luke’s weren’t practicing Catholics; they just had parents who wanted them somewhere more prestigious than public school.

At the end of the service, Mom said, “I’m going to go ask that guy if he is Matt Jones.  Come on.”

“I don’t want to just go talk to a stranger,” I said.

“I know it’s him.  Let’s go talk to him.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that I don’t know him.”

“Just come on,” Mom said, walking directly over to the guy she thought was Matt Jones.  She turned around, looking at the rest of us, as if to say that we too had to come in order to make her not feel weird.  I followed her, even though everything about this was weird to me.

“Excuse me,” Mom asked.  “Aren’t you Matt Jones?”

“Yes,” Matt said, turning around and looking puzzled.  “Do I know you?”

“I’m Peggy Dennison.  I’m from Plumdale. My son Mark was on a baseball team with your brother Josh,” Mom explained, gesturing toward Mark.

“Oh, yeah!” Matt said.  “I remember you guys. What are you doing up here?”

“Our other son, Greg, goes here.  He’s a freshman.”

Matt extended his hand to shake mine.  “Hi,” I said. “Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” Matt replied.  “Are you guys just visiting for the day?”

“Yes,” Mom explained.  Then, gesturing toward Dad, she said, “He has to work tomorrow.  It isn’t a holiday for everyone.”

“That makes sense.  Travel safely.”

“Thanks.  It was good seeing you.”  Mom turned to me. “Are you ready for lunch?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Sounds good to me,” Dad added.

 

At age 18, I did not have anything at all resembling a sophisticated culinary palate.  I liked McDonald’s, and that was where we often went when we were eating while on vacation.  Jeromeville only had one McDonald’s, and it was completely on the other end of town from where we were.

Dad was driving.  “Which way?” he asked at the stop sign outside of the Newman Center building.

“Left,” I said.  Dad turned left, and we began heading east on Fifth Street.  The street was narrow, with room for two lanes of cars in each direction but not much else.  Old houses and large trees lined the street, along with a few office buildings.

“This looks like a really old neighborhood,” Mom said, looking out the window.

“Yeah,” I replied.

As we continued farther east, we passed by some much newer apartments and office buildings.  “Those apartments look really nice,” Mom said. “I wonder who lives there? College students?  Regular people?”

“I don’t know.”

Eventually Fifth Street curved to the left and ended in a very new neighborhood that appeared to be still under construction.  Dad turned right, then right again, on a road that crossed over Highway 100, while Mom continued talking about one of Grandma’s old lady friends.  “Turn right at the first light,” I said as Dad drove down the other side of the overpass. Dad turned right, and McDonald’s was just past this intersection on the left.

We sat down with our food a few minutes later; Mark and I both ordered Chicken McNuggets.  I dipped a nugget in barbecue sauce as Mom said, “Danielle seems nice.”

“She is.”

“Do you know the girl who was standing next to Danielle in the choir?  To our right, from where we were sitting?”

“Her name is Claire, and she’s a sophomore.  But I don’t really know her.”

“She sure is well-endowed.”

“That’s an understatement,” Dad added, chuckling.

“Why do you guys always have to talk about people behind their backs like that?” I asked.

“I’m not,” Mom said.  “I’m just stating a fact.”

“Yeah, but you’ll never see these people again.  I have to see Claire every week at church, and now I’m going to think about her boobs next time I see her.”

“Doesn’t Greg think about boobs all the time anyway?” Mark chimed in.

“You’re not helping,” I said.  I stopped talking and concentrated on eating until the conversation turned away from Claire’s boobs.

We returned to downtown Jeromeville a different way.  Cornell Boulevard ran parallel to Highway 100 on the south side of the freeway, mostly through newer suburbs.  Just outside of downtown, Cornell Boulevard turned slightly to the right and crossed over Highway 100, then narrowed to two lanes passing through an old and narrow railroad underpass and emerging on the other side at an intersection with First Street.  Cornell Boulevard became E Street continuing past First Street.

“Which way are we going?” Dad asked.

“Left,” I said.

“Fraternity houses,” Mom said after Dad turned, pointing to the right side of First Street.  On the left side was a row of olive trees and a vacant lot. “We must be near campus.”

“Right up there,” I said, pointing straight ahead of us where First Street entered campus and closed itself to automobile traffic.  “But we want to turn left here.”

Dad turned left onto Old Jeromeville Road, which crossed the University Arboretum and an on-campus apartment building for adult students.  “Is that part of the campus?” Mom asked. “It looks like apartments.”

“It is part of campus,” I said.  “I think it’s for older students who have families.”

We continued driving, past a few small research laboratories on our left and the Arboretum on our right.  “What are all those trees on the right?” Mom asked.
“That’s a creek, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.  And there’s an arboretum lining both banks.”

“That looks like a nice place to take a walk.”

“It is.  Are we going to do that later?”

“Sure.  After we get back to the parking lot, I’ll show you around campus.  We can take a walk in the arboretum, and then on the way back to the building, I’ll show you where my classes are and stuff like that.”

“Sounds good.”

We turned onto Andrews Road, crossing back to the north side of the creek and then making a 90 degree left turn to run parallel to it.  “See that road down there?” I said, pointing straight ahead as we made the 90 degree turn. “That first time we drove around campus, that’s where Dad got stuck in that driveway.”

“I remember that,” Mom said.

“Hey, I was only going where your mother told me to go,” Dad said, laughing a little.

“That looks like more agriculture stuff over there,” Mom said, pointing to the left.  In between Andrews Road and the creek was a row of tall pine trees, with what appeared to be barns behind them.  Between the barns were pens with cows and goats inside.

“The Milking Facility is somewhere back there, I know that,” I said.

“Have you ever milked a cow?”

“I think it’s just for people taking those classes and working in those departments.”

“Yeah!” Mark said loudly from the back seat.  “It’s not like just anyone off the street can walk up there and say, ‘Pardon me, may I please milk your cow?’”  Mark asked that last part in an exaggerated falsetto. I laughed.

“I don’t know these things!” Mom said.  “Stop making fun of me!”

“Well, you have to admit, it was kind of a strange question.”

 

Dad pulled into the parking lot a minute after we saw the cows.  “Are we ready to walk around?” he asked.

“Sure,” Mom said.  Mark and I voiced no objections.  I may have only been here for five months, but given my natural inclination toward maps and roads and the exploring I had done on my bike, I felt ready to play tour guide.

We walked east, back the way we came along Andrews Road.  That part of the campus wasn’t very exciting; we had already seen the pine trees and barns across the street, and our side of the street was all parking lots, except for one building called Mayer Hall.  I wasn’t sure what happened in that building, but there were no classrooms as far as I knew.

“That’s the water tower,” I said, pointing ahead of us toward a fenced-off area that appeared to contain maintenance vehicles.  “That’s kind of a campus landmark. It’s on the university seal. You can see it from the freeway.”

We continued toward the water tower to the 90 degree turn in the road, where I led the others off of the main road into the Arboretum.  “This is nice,” Mom said. “The kind of place where you could go read or study in between classes. Do you ever do that?”

“Not really,” I said.  “I usually go home if I have a long gap between classes.  But eventually if I’m living off campus, I could do something like that.  Besides, this time of year it’s usually a little too cold for sitting outside..”

“Have you thought about where you’ll be living next year?”

“Not yet.”

Mom looked at a sign next to a small, bare tree next to us.  “‘Western redbud,’” she read. “This will have pretty flowers in the spring when it starts blooming.”

I looked at the sign.  “Yeah.”

After the redbuds, we walked past some large desert plants, many of which looked similar to the potted succulents found on suburban patios, except much larger.  Past these was a very large live oak tree with a bench underneath. On the other side of us was a large building three stories high. “That’s the law school building.  And that,” I said, pointing around the corner to an even taller building as we crossed a street, “is Marks Hall, where the Chancellor’s Office is.”

“I remember that building,” Mom said.

On the other side of Marks Hall was an area of large trees native to Asia.  The creek widened into a small lake, with a grassy area on the bank on our side.  One student wearing a hoodie sat on the grass reading, with his bike next to him. We passed the grassy area toward a grove of redwood trees, but instead of continuing through the arboretum, we walked to the left.  “These are the art, drama, and music buildings,” I said.

“I still wish you would get back into music someday,” Mom said.

“I know.  I have classes to focus on right now, though.”  I wondered if getting into music again would be less intimidating as an adult, since Mom would not be around to pressure me to perform.  I had to play piano every time Grandma came over, I had to record myself playing so we could send it to other relatives, and all of that made me very self-conscious to the point that I quit playing piano at age 10 and have not done anything musical since.

We crossed Davis Drive and continued walking north, under tall trees that would grow long, thin leaves in the spring.  I’m not sure what they’re called. “That’s the library,” I said, pointing at the large gray building on our left, “but the entrance is on the other side.”  I pointed to the right a few seconds later, to a courtyard in between three buildings. “And over there, those olive and fig trees, there’s a plaque over there that says they were planted in 1855 by the Jerome family, before there was a town or a university here.”

“Wow,” Mom said.

“And I had a class in that building over there.”

I continued pointing out landmarks around the campus as Mom asked questions and Dad and Mark followed quietly.  We walked along the Quad next to a row of tall, aged cork oaks, stepping on years of shed leaves and acorns. Across the street from us, facing the Quad, were the oldest buildings on campus, built in 1906 as dormitories and now housing offices for various student services.  The outside walls of the buildings were covered in wooden shingles. I pointed out the Memorial Union, and Mom and Dad commented on how they remembered that building from the IHP preview day last year. We walked past Wellington Hall, where around half of my classes had been held so far.  I turned left on Colt Avenue and walked past the chemistry building and the barns and silos that had been converted into a second student union, the bike shop, and an arts and crafts center. These buildings had a shingled appearance similar to the old buildings facing the Quad.

“That building has a funny round tower thing on it,” Mom pointed out.

“It’s a silo.  It used to be an actual silo.  And these other buildings were barns.”

“That’s neat the way they made those buildings into something else.  Does that one say ‘Bike Barn?’”

“Yeah.  It’s a bike shop, run by Associated Students.”

“Have you ever been there?”

“I got fenders there, so I don’t get dirty biking in the rain.”

“Why are there big square rocks piled up over there?” Mark asked, pointing to what looked like a pile of big rectangular rocks.

“It’s art,” I explained.

“More like fart.”

“Yeah.  I don’t always get art.”

We turned right on another pedestrian and bike path just after the confusing artwork, walking past a small cluster of walnut trees.  After the barns, the path curved to the left past Kent Hall, one of two buildings used specifically by the various engineering departments.  Just past Kent Hall, scattered among oaks, pines, and other trees I could not identify, were the twelve letter buildings of the South Residential Area.

“Now we’re back to your dorms,” Mom said as we walked between Buildings L and M.

“Yes,” I replied.  “Building C is on the other side.”  I pointed out the dining commons building as we walked past.

“Greg!” I heard a voice say.  It was coming from above where we were walking.  I looked up and saw Taylor Santiago sitting on the balcony at the end of the third floor of Building C.  “How’s it going? Is this your family?”

“Yeah.  This is my mom and dad, and my brother Mark.”  I turned to my family and continued, “That’s Taylor.  He lives in that room next to the balcony.”

“Hi, Taylor,” Mom said.

“So you guys just here for the day?”

“Yeah.”

“From Plumdale, Santa Lucia area, right?”

“Yes.  Greg was just showing us around.  We’re leaving later this afternoon.  Greg’s dad has to work tomorrow.”

“Well it was nice meeting you!  Enjoy your visit!”

“Thanks!”

I walked with the rest of the family around to the main entrance of Building C.  Liz came up the back stairs just as I was letting everyone back in my room. “Hey, Greg,” she said.

“Mom, Dad, Mark, this is Liz.  Liz, this is my family.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” Liz said, smiling.  “Are you having a good visit?”

“I am,” Mom replied.

“I have a paper to write.  But it was nice meeting you guys!”

“You too!”

Liz went back into her room just as we entered my room.  “You were going to show me how all that stuff you do on the computer works,” Mom reminded me.

“I can do that,” I said.  I showed her my email inbox, with a list of messages received, and as I was hoping, she didn’t ask me who all those people were.  I got on an IRC chat after all the dings and whistles went through, and explained to the others what IRC chat was. I typed a greeting to the rest of the room and waited to see if anyone would reply.

gjd76: hey
c: hi gjd!
Alicia: hi
BONER: yo gjd, m/f?
*Alicia gives gjd76 roses @}–}–}—–

“Did that Boner guy just call you a MF?” Mom asked.  “That was mean.”

“No,” I explained.  “With the slash and the question mark, it means he’s asking if I’m male or female.”

“And Alicia gave you roses.  What are all those symbols?”

“Turn your head sideways to the left.  It looks like a rose.”

Mom tilted her head.  “Oh! I see. How clever.”  Mom didn’t ask anything more about this; she just wanted to see what it looked like.  I was glad. I really didn’t want to tell my mother what Alicia and I were doing on IRC last night.  And I really hoped Alicia would still be on later tonight after Mom and Dad and Mark left.

gjd76: thanks, alicia 🙂 i’ll be back on later tonight.  my parents are visiting right now, and i’m just showing them how irc works
Alicia: ok! i’ll see you later =)
c: bye gjd
BONER: bye

“You seem to be fitting in here and making friends,” Mom said a while later, after I showed her the Pink Floyd Usenet group and a few other wonders of the text-based Internet.  “That Taylor guy seems really nice.”

“He is,” I said.

“Remember when we came here for the preview day last year?  That one guy said that people in the program often find lifelong friends.  I wonder if you and Taylor are going to end up being lifelong friends.”

“Maybe,” I said.

We spent another hour or so sitting in my room talking.  Mom told me about Mark’s basketball season. Mom told me about the latest gossip she had heard the other day when Mary Bordeaux called her.  Mom told me about drama at her work involving people whom I had no idea who they were. Dad said very little, although he did mention something about some guy he knew from work.  Mark didn’t say much, except to correct Mom when she got a minor detail wrong about one of his basketball games.

In the late afternoon, around four-thirty, Mom said, “Well, it’s probably time for us to go.  We don’t want to be out too late.”

“Sounds good,” I said.

“But it was good seeing you.  I enjoyed you getting to show us around.”

“I did too.”

“When are you coming home next?  When is your break?”

“End of March.”

“Then I’ll see you at the end of March.”  Mom hugged me.

“Dad loves you,” Dad said, also walking toward me and giving me a hug.

“Bye,” Mark said.

“Drive safely,” I told them as they left the room and closed the door.

 

At dinner that night, I saw Taylor, Pete, Danielle, Gina, and Skeeter sitting together.  I sat next to them.

“Did your folks leave?” Taylor asked.

“They did,” I said.  “About an hour ago.”

Gina spoke up.  “I saw you guys earlier.  Your dad doesn’t look at all what I expected him to look like.  I can’t believe you came from that.”

I laughed.  “Yeah, I definitely don’t have the scruffy Deadhead look.”

“Your dad is a scruffy Deadhead?” Skeeter asked.

“Yes,” Gina explained.  “Birkenstocks and facial hair and everything.”

“Wow.  Yeah, I wouldn’t have thought that either.”

“So why was your mom talking to Matt Jones after church?” Danielle asked.

“He grew up near me, and our families know each other.  Our brothers played baseball together. But it was so embarrassing!  I don’t know Matt except that I recognize his face. I didn’t want to just go up and talk to some stranger.  And now that I know him, he’s going to think of me as the guy with the weird mom.”

“Maybe your mom could put in a good word for me.  Matt is pretty hot.”

I laughed.  “I don’t know.  I’ll see what I can do.”

I really wasn’t all that upset at Mom embarrassing me.  It got old after a while, but I was used to it. And with me now living almost three hours away, Mom was not around as often to embarrass me.  But Mom was right about one thing that day: Taylor and I did in fact end up lifelong friends. And he is one of the few people from this time period in my life who actually knows about this blog.

2007 taylor's wedding
Taylor’s wedding, 2007 (with pixelated faces because I didn’t ask if I could use this picture, and I don’t want to show my real face).  Taylor is third from the left, and I’m the tall guy on the far right.  Pete Green is next to me, and two other guys in this picture will be part of this story eventually.

2019 taylor baseball game
Taylor (left-center), his wife (lower left), and me (foreground on the right) at a baseball game in Bay City, 2019.

 

February 14, 1995. Girl crazy.

I was girl crazy back in 1995. I didn’t really think about this at the time, and I never would have admitted it publicly. But it seems like I always had cute girls on my mind, and I had a lot of crushes. Andrea Briggs from math class. Megan McCauley, the RA from Building K, but I was still getting used to the green hair. A redhead from math class whose name I didn’t know yet. Brittany from Texas, whom I knew online, even though she likes the wrong football team, and she had mentioned a boyfriend before. Kim from Florida, whom I had just met online a week ago. This cute curly-haired girl whom I had seen around the dining hall; I had no idea what her name was.

And then there were all the crushes left over from high school, in particular two girls whom I had just met senior year who were both really nice to me, but neither one had stayed in touch. Annie Gambrell had a boyfriend, so that was pretty much hopeless. And the last thing that Jennifer Henson had said to me was “I’m sure I’ll talk to you again before we move away,” but she didn’t. I should point out, however, that Jennifer was actually one of the first high school friends to find me when I started using Facebook in 2007. Although we’re on good terms, let’s just say that, knowing what she is like as an adult, I now know we wouldn’t have made a good couple.

Despite all that, I never acted on any of these feelings. I didn’t really know how. No one ever taught me anything about dating or the opposite sex; my dad and I didn’t really have that kind of relationship growing up. Dad worked nights, slept for most of the day, and his whole side of the family doesn’t really talk much. I was so afraid of people for most of my teens that I never even had any awkward attempts to ask someone out. I asked Renee Robertson to prom senior year, but we were just going as friends, and she knew it. I went with Lisa Swan to winter ball junior year, but she asked me, not the other way around. I awkwardly told Melissa Holmes that I liked her in the middle of senior year, but I had never actually tried to ask her out. That didn’t go so well, although of course we were still friends, and so far she has stayed in touch most consistently out of all my high school friends.

All of this made me a little discouraged over the fact that today was Valentine’s Day. I had never really done anything for Valentine’s Day before. When I was a kid, sometimes Mom would buy me candy, but that’s Mom so it doesn’t really count. In elementary school, there was the usual thing of bringing Valentine cards to everyone in your class, but that doesn’t really mean a lot either. I had never had a date for Valentine’s Day, and this day just seemed to be full of reminders of that fact.

In math class this morning, the cute redhead sat next to me, but we were taking a test so I couldn’t interact with her at all. Then I had chemistry discussion; there was a really friendly girl in there named Marissa, a sophomore, but I really didn’t think she was that cute. Next, I had my class for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program. I don’t remember the exact title of the class, but it was about South Africa, combining elements of literature and cultural anthropology, taught by an anthropology professor named Dr. Dick Small. That’s pretty much the worst name ever. He kind of reminded me of Bill Murray.

Oddly enough, I didn’t really have any big crushes on any of the other IHP students. I’m not exactly sure why that is. There were some cute girls in the program. Maybe since I actually lived with them and saw them all the time, it was just too weird to think of them that way and then have to see them face to face. That kind of seems counterintuitive, though; if I see them all the time, then I’d get the chance to talk to them more, and theoretically that should be what I want. Or maybe it’s because I did talk to them more, enough to realize that none of them was really what I was looking for. I don’t know. My brain works in strange ways sometimes.

I got back to Building C around 2:00, my classes done for the day. I owed Brittany from Texas an email reply from last night, so I began typing.


From: gjdennison@jeromeville.edu
To: swimgirl17@aolnet.com
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 1995 14:16 -0800
Subject: stuff

No, I’m not doing anything for Valentine’s Day. I’m not good with dating and that stuff. What about you? Any special plans with your boyfriend?

How was your day? I had a math test. I think I did pretty well. I’m learning a lot of new things that I didn’t learn in high school, like partial derivatives, but I’m keeping up so far. There’s basketball here tonight, so I’ll be going to that. The conference that UJ plays in has men’s and women’s games on the same night, so we get to watch two games, and students get in free. Have a great rest of the day!

-gjd


I lay down on the bed for a while, daydreaming about cute girls, then I started reading for the South Africa class. Around 4:00, there was a knock on the door. I got up and opened the door; Gina and Skeeter were standing there, each holding a plastic grocery bag.

“Hey, Greg,” Skeeter said.

“We made Valentines,” Gina said as she started looking through her bag. “Here’s yours.”

It took a few seconds for me to process what they said. Gina handed me a small card of the sort that elementary school students bring their friends on Valentine’s Day, and Skeeter handed me another one a few seconds later.

“Wow,” I said. “Thank you so much! This means a lot.”

“You’re welcome,” Gina answered. “We just wanted to do something nice for all of our friends here in the IHP.”

“I appreciate it.”

I read what each of them had written.


To: Greg
From: Gina
I always like your limericks and poems. Happy V Day!

To: Greg
From: Skeeter
Keep writing poems… I’ll show you mine, too, if you want

1995-02 valentines


I chuckled. “I see my poetry made an impact on you guys,” I said.

“Seriously, you’re hilarious,” Gina said. “Have you ever thought about being a writer or anything like that? I know you’re a math guy, but you’re really good with words.”

“I don’t know.”

“And you can be really dark too,” Skeeter added. “Like me. I like that.”

“We’re going to go deliver the rest of these. Are you going to the basketball game tonight?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll see you there.”

“I won’t,” Skeeter said. “I’m staying home to study. That, and I don’t really watch basketball.”

“Sounds good,” I said. “I’ll see you there. And Skeeter, good luck studying.”

 

The basketball game was against Bidwell State. I sat with the Colt Crew student cheering section, along with about twelve other people from Building C. As was the case with football games, there were certain cheers that the fans would do, led by the Colt Crew student leaders. When the Colts were shooting a free throw, for example, everyone would raise both hands, and if the shot was good, we would all go “Whoosh!” and swing our arms straight down. Part of the fun of college sporting events is the way that these traditions carry on for many generations. I went to a Jeromeville Colts basketball game during the most recent season, in February 2019, and they still do the Whoosh thing today.

During halftime of the women’s game, one of the Colt Crew leaders announced into a megaphone, “Hey, Colt Crew! After this game, stay right where you are for another game, featuring the Colt men’s basketball team! And here they come now, with a gift for you!”

A bunch of tall students wearing white, blue, and gold jerseys, the same colors as the women’s jerseys but with a slightly different design, came running out in front of the Colt Crew section. They began throwing gold-colored rubber balls into the crowd with the Jeromeville Colts logo on them. One of them was coming straight toward me; I jumped up and caught it, and almost fell on Gina in front of me as I came down.

“Whoa!” Gina shouted.

“Sorry,” I said.

Mike Adams, sitting between Gina and his girlfriend Kim, noticed what was going on. “Hey, Greg caught a ball! Nice!”

“Thanks!” I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the ball, but it might be fun to save it like a trophy, a reminder of the time I actually caught the ball.

The women won their game, 62 to 55. As the men’s game kept going, I couldn’t help but notice Mike and Kim in front of me gradually getting closer. They went from holding hands, to Kim leaning her head on his shoulder, to standing when the rest of the crowd stood around us but with Mike behind Kim and his arms around her from behind. I kept thinking that they were going to have a good Valentine’s Day. Maybe they’d go back to one of their rooms after the game and get it on. Not that it was any of my business. Just something else that it seemed like other people got to experience, but I didn’t.

During halftime of the men’s game, the Colt Crew leaders did Tube Sock Madness, where they throw tube socks into the crowd. I still don’t know where that tradition started, but I didn’t catch any this time. The men won their game, 76 to 71.

About half an hour after we all got home from the game, I was in my room catching up on the Pink Floyd Usenet group, and thinking about how I should probably go to bed, when someone knocked on the door. “Come in,” I said, knowing that I had not locked the door.

Kathleen from room 212 walked in. I was a little surprised, just because I didn’t know Kathleen that well, and I didn’t have any classes with her, so I wasn’t sure exactly why she would be looking for me, especially at 10:30 on a Tuesday night.

“I was hoping you’d still be awake. I could see from under your door that the light was on. You know that ball you caught at the game tonight?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I replied hesitantly, not sure where she was going with this.

Kathleen seemed to be holding back giggles. “The player who threw it, Jason Simmons, my roommate and I think he’s really hot. We were wondering if we could have that ball.”

Wow. Apparently I was not the only one on Valentine’s Day sitting in my room thinking about hopeless crushes. I didn’t feel so bad about it anymore. “Sure,” I said, smiling. I handed Kathleen the ball.

“Thanks so much!” she said.

“No problem. Have a good night.”

“You too!”

A few minutes later, I checked my email. Brittany had replied to my message from earlier.


From: swimgirl17@aolnet.com
To: gjdennison@jeromeville.edu
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 1995 21:33 -0600
Subject: Re: stuff

I’m not doing anything for Valentines Day. And I don’t have a boyfriend. We broke up two months ago. I didn’t do anything special today, just swim practice and homework. Tomorrow is my best friend’s birthday so we’ll be going out to dinner to celebrate. How was the basketball game? And I have no idea what a partial derivative is. I’m only in Algebra 2.

-Brittany


I shut down the computer, changed into the clothes I would wear to bed, and walked down to the bathroom. I was feeling a little better about myself now. Sure, I was alone on Valentine’s Day while Mike Adams and his girlfriend were probably getting some, along with thousands of other UJ students. But I wasn’t the only one. On the way back from the bathroom, I walked past Kathleen’s room, wondering if she and her roommate were still giggling over having a ball that had been thrown by that basketball player she liked.

Lying in bed, I thought about Brittany not having a boyfriend anymore. I wished I could have taken her out for Valentine’s Day, but she was over a thousand miles away. Maybe we would actually meet someday. (We didn’t.) It wasn’t the best Valentine’s Day for me, but that’s ok. Maybe next year would be different. I had good friends here at UJ, and elsewhere too; that really does matter, and it is something to be grateful for.

February 2-4, 1995.  News from home and Sarah’s package.

I got back from my classes Thursday afternoon, and I spent the next few hours answering emails, chatting on IRC, reading, and napping.  Around quarter to six (that’s how we old people sometimes say 5:45, because there is a quarter of an hour left until six o’clock) I was awakened by loud music playing down the hall, loud enough for me to hear it even though my door was closed.  That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I had been asleep for over an hour, and my afternoon naps usually didn’t last that long anyway. As I lay on my bed trying to relax despite the noise, trying to get up the energy to go eat, I realized that I recognized this music.  It was that band I had heard on the radio and thought of as “Pearl Jam of the South,” the one with the guy who had the gravelly slurred grunge-like voice, but singing over much more Southern music. As the album continued playing past the songs I recognized, I heard a really interesting song with a distinct fiddle part in the beginning, followed by a few other mid-tempo Southern rock pieces.

Eventually I got out of bed and looked down the hallway.  The music was coming from Liz’s room. Instead of walking to the dining commons, I walked the other direction to Liz’s room and poked my head in the door just as Pearl Jam of the South was singing about the past being gone and the future being far away.  Liz was sitting on the bed, talking to Ramon, who was sitting in Liz’s desk chair. “Hi, Greg!” Liz said, waving. I stepped into the room as she asked, “What’s up?”

“Nothing,” I said.  “I was just curious about the music.  Who is this? I’ve heard some of these songs on the radio.”

“Hootie and the Blowfish,” Ramon said.  “I borrowed this CD from my roommate.”

“Hootie and the Blowfish,” I repeated.  “That’s a great name for a band.”

“I know!  Isn’t it?”

“I’m hungry,” Liz said.  “Greg? Have you eaten yet?”

“No.  And I’m hungry too.”

“Want to come to the DC with us?”

“Sure.”

“I’m going to go downstairs and see if Sarah wants to come too.  Earlier she said to come get her when we go eat.”

 

I followed Liz and Ramon downstairs to Sarah’s room, and then the five of us walked to the dining commons; there were five of us now because Krista had been in Sarah’s room, and she came with us too.  For dinner, some food items were available every day, and some of them would rotate from day to day. Tonight, one of the rotating dishes was Country Fried Steak; I grabbed a slice and put it on my plate.  It tasted more like Country Fried Cardboard.

“I need to check the mail,” Ramon said after we finished eating.  “You guys want to come with me?”

“Sure,” Sarah replied.  “I haven’t checked mine either.”

“Same,” I said.

We all walked downstairs, past the room with the pool table, into the room with the mailboxes and the Help Window.  I saw something in my mailbox, and I got excited as I turned the key and noticed that it appeared to be a handwritten letter, addressed to me in a handwriting that was not my grandma’s.  I didn’t recognize the handwriting at first. I took the letter out of the mailbox and read the return address; it was from Rachel Copeland.

“I got a package!” Sarah exclaimed excitedly.  When a dormitory resident received a package, someone put a ticket in the mailbox, which the resident would then take to the Help Window to receive the package.  Sarah came back a minute later with her package. “I got a package!” she said again.

As we walked out of the dining commons building with our mail, Sarah was still excited about her package.  “I got a package! Isn’t there a song about a package?” she said.

Everyone kind of looked at each other, wondering if anyone else knew the package song that Sarah was thinking of.  “I don’t know this song,” I said.

“I think it goes like this,” Ramon prefaced, as he began singing to the tune of the “neener-neener-neener” chants popular among preschoolers and elementary school children.  “I got a package!  And you did-n’t!” Ramon sang.  I laughed.

“Who’s the package from?” Krista asked Sarah.

“My mom.  I don’t know what it is.  But it’s a package!”

I never did find out what was in Sarah’s package.  When we got back to Building C, I went to my room because I was more interested in the fact that Rachel had written to me.  Rachel was a year behind me, a current senior at Plumdale High. She was friends with a lot of my classmates; I knew her to say hi to for a long time, but she had started sitting with my group of friends at lunch during my senior year, and I had gotten to know her better.  I opened the letter and started reading.

Jan. 28, 1995

Hey Greg,

How are you?  (sorry I started out so generic.)  I hope you’re doing well. It’s a funny thing, two different people talked about you today.  Señora Rodriguez and Mrs. Jackson mentioned you. You sure are a well liked guy from what I hear.  In English we only talk and critique other people’s writing. This is my last year so it is really sad to leave Spanish.  I’ve had Señora Rodriguez for all four years and I think she is my favorite teacher. She let us watch all our old video projects.  It made me want to cry because I remember all the good ol’ days. You were in one. It was the one where you were the bully beating up Jason Lambert and he turned into Ken Haley and beat you up.  All day I was in a really good mood. In my second class I cracked up and said lots of funny things. I laughed the whole time. I guess I had a “I feel like standing out” day. Most of the time I like to be another pair of eyes in the wall and think about how no one even has a clue that I’m watching them and that I know all about them.  Today was so funny. My friend said she wanted to be one of those people that use flares to direct airplanes when she grows up. She did the motions too. It was so funny but I guess you would have had to have been there. Life is full of stress. I guess you have to take it one step at a time. I truely truly believe that every cloud has a silver lining.  You know, I can find something good in everything and everyone.  It helps life to be worthwhile. I have to remind myself more and more all the time as life gets tougher and tougher.  In my class the other day I was so funny. Everyone within earshot was laughing at the things I said. It makes me happy to be in the spotlight.  When I went out to lunch with my friends I felt like I was invisible. They all had things to talk about like trips and new hairstyles. They all have things to share.  Sometimes I feel like there is an inside joke and I’m the only one on the outside. It only makes it so much better when I can finally really bond. You can’t know true happiness if you haven’t experienced true sadness.  Time presses on. I’m sure you’re bored of me by now, so I’ll go put this in the mail. Hope to hear back from you soon!

Love,
Rachel Copeland

Below Rachel’s signature was her address and phone number.  I think she had already given me her phone number when she signed my yearbook last year, but I hadn’t called her.  Talking on the phone made me nervous. But maybe I would actually call her this time.

Rachel shared a lot of nuggets of wisdom in that beautiful run-on paragraph.   I knew that feeling about being on the outside of an inside joke. I felt this way quite often around friends.  And if it is true that one can’t know true happiness without experiencing true sadness, then I guess I was ready for some true happiness.

I was happy about getting Rachel’s letter.  I spent the rest of the night doing math homework and answering some emails from chat room girls.  I went to sleep around 11:00 and slept fairly well.

 

My Friday was relatively uneventful.  I had a midterm in chemistry, and I felt like I did well.  Taylor, Pete, Sarah, Liz, Ramon, and Krista were all on a retreat with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship until Sunday afternoon, so I was expecting this weekend to be more uneventful than usual, with a lot of time alone.  Around 7:00 at night, after I got back from dinner, the phone rang. When I answered it, I was not surprised at all that it was my mother. No one else ever called me, for that matter.

“I had lunch with Mary Bordeaux today,” Mom said after the usual pleasantries of asking how many day went and how my chemistry midterm was.  “I heard some interesting things.”

Once Mom said this, I knew exactly what was coming for the next fifteen minutes or so.  I had a friend from school whom I met in eighth grade named Jackie Bordeaux; tall blonde girl, really sweet.  Mary was Jackie’s mother. I don’t remember how Mary and my mom met. I think maybe they had a mutual friend unrelated to the fact that Jackie and I went to school together.  Or maybe they met at some school event for parents. I don’t know, and I don’t really care, honestly. Whenever Mom had lunch with Mary, she would always return with tons of gossip about people from Plumdale High.  Looking back, I recognize now that it was not emotionally healthy for anyone to be gossiping that much about other people’s lives, especially in Mom’s case where she barely knew, or didn’t know at all, the people she gossiped about.  But Mom’s updates that she gave me from Mary did actually serve a somewhat useful purpose for me. Since there was no social media in 1995, I had lost touch with many of my high school friends very quickly after we graduated, and stories from Mary were often the only connection I had to some of them.

“Have you heard from Jackie at all?” Mom asked.

“She sent me a postcard back in October, shortly after she started at Santa Teresa,” I said.  “I wrote back and didn’t hear from her after that.”

“Well, apparently she has this older boyfriend.  None of the rest of the family likes him. Mary thinks he’s a bad influence.”

“Hmm,” I said.

“And Mary said that Jessica Halloran is in Guatemala.”

“I remember you said that you heard she was going out of the country somewhere.”

“She was going to go to Santa Teresa with Jackie, then she was going to go to Valle Luna State, but she decided at some point to spend some time traveling in Central and South America.  She’s volunteering at an orphanage now.”

Sometimes, someone would say something that would set off a chain reaction in my brain, reminding me of something not directly related to the conversation at hand.  I had one of those moments as Mom was telling me about Jessica. “I just realized,” I said. “I’m pretty sure today is Jessica’s birthday.”

“How funny that we would be talking about her today.”

“Yeah.”

“Oh,” Mom started in again.  “Remember how I said that I was paying attention to news about the Santa Lucia City College volleyball team, because Allison LaPierre was playing for them?  But then it looked like she wasn’t on the team, and I didn’t know why?”

“Yes.”

“I always thought she was nice.  Anyway, I asked Mary what Allison was doing these days, and she said, ‘Getting married because she’s pregnant.’  I said, ‘What?’ Because I always thought she was a nice Mormon girl.”

“People do stuff,” I said.

“I guess so.”

I sat through about five more minutes of stories Mom had heard from Mary about people I didn’t know very well, and another ten minutes of Mom telling me about people from her work, whom I didn’t know at all.  My ears perked up when Mom finally said something relevant to me. “Dad and Mark and I were talking about coming to visit you sometime soon, for the day,” she said.

“Sure,” I replied.  “That would be good.”

“Does Sunday the 19th work?  That’s Presidents’ Day weekend.  Do you have Monday the 20th off?”

“That should work.  And yes, I have that Monday off.”

“Sounds good!  I’ll talk to Dad and Mark, and we’ll figure out exactly what time we’re coming.”

“Okay, then.  I’ll plan for you to be here on the 19th.”

“Well,” Mom continued, “that’s about all I have to say.  So I guess I’ll let you go. Are you doing anything this weekend?”

“Probably not.  Some people are gone this weekend, on a retreat with some church group they’re a part of.”

“Well, I hope it’s a good weekend anyway.”

“Thanks.”

“I’ll talk to you later.”

“Okay.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”  I hung up the phone, still a little shocked that Allison LaPierre was pregnant.  I hadn’t seen that one coming. And while I would have found it surprising a year ago that Jessica Halloran would be volunteering at an orphanage in Guatemala, it did sound like a great experience for her.

 

Today, no one ever thinks about what time to make phone calls, because everyone has unlimited long distance calling on cell phones.  It wasn’t like this in 1995. Local phone calls from what are now called land lines were unlimited. From my dorm room, I could call anywhere on the UJ campus, or in the cities of Jeromeville, Woodville, and Nueces.  Calling farther away than that required making a long distance call, which was provided by a separate service from local calls, and billed by the minute. The exact cost of a long distance call changed depending on when the call was placed; usually it was least expensive late at night and on weekends.  For this reason, I had waited until Saturday to make the call I wanted to make now instead of Friday. And I waited until mid-afternoon Saturday, because phone calls made me nervous and I kept procrastinating, plus I knew that most people slept in later than I did on Saturdays.

I sat in the chair at my desk, staring at the phone.  I picked up the receiver, got nervous, and put it back down.  This happened pretty much every time I made a phone call, especially one where I didn’t have a specific purpose for calling.

I stared at the ceiling, rehearsing what I was going to say, playing out scenarios in my head depending on who answered the phone.  I took a deep breath, thinking I was ready. I looked at the number I was calling, dialed the area code and a few more digits, then hung up.  I wasn’t ready for this.

I got up and walked to the drinking fountain down the hall, next to the bathroom.  I got a drink of water and walked back to my room, still rehearsing in my head what I was going to say.  I picked up the phone and started dialing, but hung up before I even finished the area code. In the next fifteen minutes, I made four more attempts that I aborted somewhere between picking up the receiver and dialing the last digit of the phone number.

Finally, I took a deep breath and decided this was it.  I picked up the receiver and pressed the buttons so fast that I would not have time to stop myself.  The phone was ringing… it was too late to hang up now, because the people on the other end of the line had already heard the phone ring, and I wouldn’t want to be rude.

“Hello?” a female voice said inside the phone.

“Is Rachel there?” I asked.

“This is Rachel.”

“Hi.  It’s Greg.  I got your letter.”  There was an awkward pause on the other end of the line; I wasn’t sure what that meant.  “Greg Dennison,” I clarified.

“Greg!  Hi! How are you?”

“I’m doing pretty well,” I said.  “Not much to do this weekend. Just math homework, and that never takes long.  I had a chemistry midterm yesterday, and I think I did pretty well.”

“Good for you!  I’m not doing anything this weekend either.  Maybe going out with some friends tonight.”

“That sounds fun.”

“So how is college?  What’s your life like now?”

“I’m in a dorm called the Interdisciplinary Honors Program.  Every quarter, we have to take a class specifically for students in this program that counts as general ed requirements.  And everyone in the program lives together, so I’ve gotten to know a lot of my building.”

“That’s great!  It sounds like that’s a good place for you.”

“It really is.”

“How are your classes so far?”

“I had straight As last quarter.”

“I’m not surprised,” Rachel said as I chuckled.

“How are you?” I asked.  “Do you know what you’re doing next year?”

“I really like St. Elizabeth’s College in Los Nogales.  I visited there, and it just felt like a nice place for me.  Do you ever get that feeling?”

“Kind of,” I said.  I didn’t know Rachel was Catholic, I thought.  Maybe she isn’t, and she just likes the school.  “I kind of got that feeling the first few times I visited Jeromeville,” I continued.

“It might be a little weird for me going to a Catholic school, but I know not all of their students are practicing Catholics,” Rachel said, answering my earlier thought about Rachel’s religious affiliation.

“Yeah.  My whole mom’s side of the family is Catholic, I’m going to Catholic Mass here, but I’ve never been to Catholic school.  So I can’t really relate.”

“I haven’t either.”

Rachel and I talked for about another half hour.  I told her about my classes. I told her what I liked about the Jeromeville campus itself, about the Arboretum and the big trees and the way you can see the easily identifiable water tower from the freeway.  I told her about how Jeromeville is a fairly small town, but close enough to Capital City to feel like it isn’t in the middle of nowhere. She told me about AP Spanish and Señora Rodriguez (to which I told her to tell Señora Rodriguez that I said hola).  She told me that she and Paul had broken up during the weekend of Thanksgiving because long distance just wasn’t working, but she was okay with it and still very close with Paul. She told me about the vacation her family had taken for Christmas, and how they were going to go to Hawaii in the summer.  She told me about volleyball season and how they had made the playoffs last fall. And regarding volleyball, I didn’t say anything about having heard that Allison LaPierre was pregnant.

“I should probably let you go,” Rachel said eventually.  “It sounds like my dad needs me to help him with something.”

“Sounds good.  But it was really good talking to you.”

“Yeah!  It was!  I’m really proud of you.  It sounds like you’ve grown a lot this year.”

“Thank you!”

“And I’ll let you know as soon as I get email set up.”

“Sounds great!”

“Have a good rest of the weekend, Greg,” Rachel said.  “Don’t stay home tonight. Go find some friends to be with.”

“I’ll try.”

“Bye!”

I hung up the phone and smiled.  Yes, I did lose touch with many of my high school friends once we all graduated and dispersed.  But the ones who really mattered stuck with me and made an effort to stay in my life and keep me in theirs.  I didn’t entirely understand that concept at age 18, though. I felt like senior year I had finally started growing and developing a social life, and I also made a fair number of new friends during senior year.  I kept feeling like I wished I had had more time to develop those friendships. But there really was no point to living in the past and wishing things could have been different. Things will not be different; the past is in the past.  All I could do was the best I could with the opportunities I had in the present. Some of my past stayed connected to me in some form, but all of our lives were heading in different directions. I left for Jeromeville as my classmates left for Valle Luna, Santa Teresa, San Angelo, even Guatemala, and each of those places presented new opportunities for us.  The IHP was the right place for me at this time, and being here had caused me to grow a lot this year, as Rachel said.  My road of life was passing through Jeromeville with no U-turns, and I never would have guessed some of the turns my road of life would take during the next few years.

1995-01 rachel's letter smaller
Rachel’s actual letter

January 28-29, 1995. Captains and Toros and resident advisors.

Growing up, I watched a lot of sports with my family.  We went to Bay City to watch professional baseball games a few times every year, and I had been to one basketball game and two hockey games as well.  I had no athletic talent myself, and my list of athletics experience included one season of tee-ball the summer after kindergarten and one day of football practice in high school before I decided I couldn’t handle it.  Mark got all the actual athletic talent in our family; he played baseball and basketball all of his life, and I worked the scoreboard and snack bar.

Surprisingly, considering that I had never been to a professional football game, football was the sport I followed the most closely during my first few years at Jeromeville.  Baseball and hockey were simultaneously on strike during my freshman year. The entire baseball playoffs were canceled, as was half of the hockey season, with hockey games having just begun a few weeks earlier instead of in October.  I liked basketball, but both of the nearby pro basketball teams were terrible, and going to basketball games wasn’t really something I was used to. But Bay City Captains football games were on TV every Sunday at home, and they had won four championships in my lifetime.

In 1995, the Captains were in the big championship game that would be watched by almost a hundred million people in the USA, and many more worldwide even though American football was not a major sport in other countries.  The Captains would be playing the Texas Toros. These two teams had both been very successful in recent years, with each team having won two championships in the last six years. This year’s game was expected to be close, with both teams evenly matched.

I walked into the stairwell to go to dinner the night before the game.  The two stairwells in Building C (and presumably the eleven other identical dorms in the South Residential Area) each had chalkboards where the RAs would write announcements, and I saw Gurpreet writing something on the chalkboard.  I read the announcement that he had written so far:

Want to be an RA next year?
Meeting Wednesday 2/1 7:00 
in t

“Hi, Greg,” he said.  “Want to be an RA next year?”

I hadn’t thought about my plans for next year at all.  Being a resident advisor could be interesting. I could continue living in a dorm and not have to make my own food, and other students could look to me, so that I could be helpful to someone else in the way that Gurpreet and Amy had been helpful to me.  “I might,” I said. “Where’s the meeting?”

“DC downstairs study room.  Seven o’clock.”

“Thanks.”  I climbed down the stairs as Gurpreet finished writing on the board and walked outside.  It was a damp Saturday night, and it was already dark, even though it was only six o’clock.  It had been raining earlier in the day, and everything was still wet although the sky seemed dry for now.

In the dining commons, I saw Megan with three girls I didn’t know at a table with empty seats.  As I was walking toward them, Megan said, “Hi, Greg! You want to sit with us?”

“Sure,” I replied.  I set my dinner tray down at the table next to Megan and realized that I recognized one of the other three girls.  She was plain looking and just a little on the heavy side, with straight light brown hair.

“Do any of you know Greg?” Megan asked the other three girls.

“You’re in Math 21C with me, aren’t you?” the one I recognized asked me.

“Yes,” I said, “but I don’t know your name.  I’m Greg.”

“I’m Tiffany,” the girl said.

“Nice to meet you.”

“And this is Maria and Brandy,” Megan said, gesturing toward the other two girls.  “They’re all on my floor.”

“Hi.”

“I was just telling them that I’m going to my friend’s place tonight because we’re going to do something crazy with my hair.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.  “What’s that?”

“I can’t tell you.  It’s a surprise. But this,” Megan said gesturing toward her hair, “you won’t see for a while.”

“She’s been teasing us all week by not telling us,” Tiffany said.

A few minutes later, Maria said something about the upcoming meeting for prospective RAs for next year, expressing interest in going.  Megan said that she would be good at it. “Hey, Greg?” Megan asked me. “Did you see that announcement about RAs for next year?”

“I did,” I said.

“Are you interested in being one?”

“I might be.  I’m going to come to the meeting.”

“Good!”

“Are you going to be an RA again next year?”

“I’m planning on it.”

“Good.”

That night, I kept thinking about this idea of being an RA.  It seemed perfect. I wouldn’t have to find a place to live next year.  I could stay on campus and have all my meals provided. My building had become my community, and even though other buildings didn’t have the extent of community that Building C and the Interdisciplinary Honors Program had, my new building where I was in charge would become my new community.  I would make new friends. Sure, there would be work involved, but the work would involve a position of leadership among my new friends and community, and this seemed like the kind of work I could get behind. Maybe I could even follow in Amy and Gurpreet’s footsteps and be the RA for next year’s IHP, since I had experience with the IHP program already.  I knew that former IHP students were often chosen to be the RAs for the IHP building; Amy had been a student in the IHP last year. And, of course, being an RA meant I would probably be seeing Megan around a lot, especially if we ended up in the same one of the three campus residential areas.

 

The next morning, after I got up but before I showered, I checked my email.  I had one message:

From: swimgirl17@aolnet.com
To: gjdennison@jeromeville.edu
Date: Sun, 29 Jan 1995 09:31 -0600
Subject: GO TOROS

How was your weekend? Mine was pretty good. I just hung out at my
best friend’s house last night after swim practice. I need to go
help my dad get set up for our football party.  We have about 10
other people coming over to watch the Toros win the championship!
Your Captains are going down because the Toros are the better team,
and you know it! GO TOROS!!!!!!!

-Brittany

Swimgirl17 was Brittany, whom I had met online shortly before I left for Jeromeville.  She was a high school senior who lived in Texas, and that made her the enemy today because she was a Toros fan.  Most people in this part of the state who followed football were Captains fans, since they were the closest team geographically, and some of the Toros fans I knew around here could be real jerks about this sometimes.  I liked Brittany, she was nice, but I didn’t like the fact that she was a Toros fan. Of course, she had a reason to be a Toros fan since she actually lived in Texas. I decided to wait until the game was over before replying to that email.

Around the time the game was supposed to start, I wandered down to the common room, where there was a television with a rabbit-ear antenna.  Nowadays, with cable and Netflix and all the other options out there, many people don’t seem to understand how antennas work, or that they can still be used to get local television channels.  The way they work is that TV stations broadcast signals over radio waves that a TV can pick up and turn into moving pictures, much like how radio stations do the same thing and a radio turns them into sound.  The TV in the common room could get all of the major networks on stations out of Capital City, although some of them came in a little fuzzy. For the game today, the picture was good enough to watch.

Mike Adams, Ian, Gina, Karen and Pat, Taylor, David, Pete, Mike Potts, Keith, and a guy from the third floor whom I didn’t know well named Yu Cheng were all watching the game.  I took a seat on a couch next to Taylor. “I see you’re on the right side,” he said, noticing that I was wearing the one Captains shirt I had. “Yu and Ian are the only Toros fans.”

“It’s not my fault!” Yu said.  “I lived in Texas until I was 8!”

“And my family has always been Toros fans,” Ian explained, much more quietly.

“Chips?” Taylor asked, passing me a bag of tortilla chips.  “There’s guacamole and dip over there.”

I took a few chips, without dipping them in anything, and passed the bag to the next person, which was Pat in a chair to the left.  Television talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford was singing the national anthem, which I tuned out, not out of disrespect for my country but out of dislike for Kathie Lee.

After that, the game began with the Captains kicking off to the Toros.  The Toros scored on the first drive, after which Ian applauded and Yu screamed, “YEAH!”  The Toros scored again midway through the first quarter.

“Damn,” I said

“It’s still early,” Taylor replied.  “The Captains are playing pretty well.  They just need to finish their drives. They could easily get back in this game.  Of course, throwing that interception didn’t help either.”

“I know.  It’s just that this girl I met online lives in Texas, and she was taunting me about the game in an email.”

“Who cares?  It’s just a game.  And if this girl really cares about you, that won’t matter.”

“I guess you’re right.”

The scoring slowed down in the second quarter, with both teams held to one field goal each.  The Captains were down 17-3 at halftime. “I’m not enjoying this game,” I said.

“Remember the game against Philadelphia back in September or October or whenever that was?” Taylor asked.  “The Caps lost that one so badly, but that lit a fire under them, and they haven’t lost a game since. The same thing could happen here.”

“Yeah, but that was a whole game they lost.  We only have halftime to get that momentum back.”

A few people had left the common room during halftime, but everyone else had trickled back in by the middle of the third quarter.  They got there in time to see a Captains defensive back intercept a pass and run all the way back for a touchdown. The Captains intercepted another pass late in the third quarter, leading to a field goal on that drive.  Going into the fourth quarter, the Captains were still down, but the deficit had been cut to 17-13.

“See?” Mike Adams said.  “Taylor was right! The Caps got the momentum back after halftime.  This game could still go either way.”

“I know,” I replied.  “But I’m nervous. This is for the championship.”

“I told you,” Taylor said.  “It’s just a game.”

The Toros scored a field goal early in the fourth quarter, but their quarterback had lost the sharpness that he had played with before halftime.  He threw another interception, and the Captains tied the score 20-20 with a touchdown a few minutes later.

“YES!” I shouted, along with similar reactions from the other Captains fans.  I high-fived Taylor and Mike Adams and Gina. “WOOO!” I shouted. I nervously watched the Captains score again with just under two minutes left, leading to another round of cheering and high-fiving.  Then, even more nervously, I watched the Captains’ defense trying to close out the game in the final minutes, which they did. I jumped up and shouted as the clock ticked down; the Captains had won, 27-20.

When I got back to my room, still grinning excitedly, I checked my email.  At first I wasn’t planning on gloating in response to Brittany’s email. I wouldn’t want her to have acted like that had the proverbial shoe been on the other foot.  I was going to reply and say something about the game, for sure, something to the extent that it was a good game, and that the Toros played well and made the game close and exciting.  But when my new messages came up, I again had only one, and it was from Brittany. The date and time on the message showed that she had written it during halftime.

From: swimgirl17@aolnet.com
To: gjdennison@jeromeville.edu
Date: Sun, 29 Jan 1995 18:57 -0600
Subject: Re: GO TOROS

17-3 so far… the Toros are playing great!  I told you the Toros
were the better team! Have fun watching us win the championship!

She’s totally asking for this, I thought.  I’m not being mean.  I clicked Reply and typed one sentence:

So how’d that work out for you?

I went to dinner, still feeling excited about the Captains’ big win.  Danielle from down the hall was there, sitting by herself, so I sat with her.

“Were you watching the game today?” she said.  “I saw there was a big group down in the common room.”

“I was!” I said.  “The Caps won!”

“I heard.  I didn’t watch it.  We never really followed football when I was growing up.”

“I’ve been a Captains fan as long as I can remember, but I didn’t follow football as closely as baseball growing up.  I had friends encouraging me to play football when I was in high school. I quit after the first full day of practice, I was in way over my head, but that experience of learning more about the game really has helped me enjoy watching football more.  I understand the game better than I did before.”

“That’s neat.”

I caught something out of the corner of my eye as Danielle said this.  Someone with bright green hair, cut short like boys’ hair even though the person had boobs and a feminine figure, walked through the door and swiped her ID card.  I turned to look more closely at this person with bright green hair, and realized with a shock that it was Megan. She made eye contact with me, and I waved, my mouth open in surprise.  She walked over to me.

“So, what do you think?” she asked me, grinning.

“It stands out,” I said.  “It’s unique. I like it.”

“Thanks!  I was going for unique and standing out, so I guess it worked.  I told some other RAs that I was going to sit with them, so I should go find them, but I’ll talk to you soon.”

“Yeah.  See you later.”

“Who was that?” Danielle asked as Megan was walking away.

“Megan.  She’s an RA in Building K.  She said last night that she was going to do something different with her hair.”

“It certainly is different.  How do you know her?”

“I’ve just seen her around here a lot.  I think Amy introduced us earlier in the year.”

“I see.”

“Oh… so the funniest thing happened today.  I know this girl online who lives in Texas, and she sent an email teasing me about the game, saying that Texas was going to win.  After the game, I had another message from her that she sent at halftime. She was teasing me because Texas was winning, acting like they had already won… but that didn’t work out for her so well!”

“That’s great,” Danielle said.  “You don’t ever want to count on something happening until you know it’s going to happen.  Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, they say.”

“Or don’t count your Toros before they’re… calved.  Is that a word, calved?”

“I’m not sure.”

After I finished eating, I walked back to Building C and Room 221, thinking about today.  Brittany apparently learned a valuable lesson about celebrating prematurely and counting on something uncertain.  This was a lesson that I should also keep in mind. Sometimes life throws unexpected curveballs. Some of these are minor and insignificant in the long run, like when a team that is winning falls behind, or when a friend unexpectedly dyes her hair green.  But sometimes these surprises can have major ramifications for the future.

A few weeks after this football game, I had an unexpected occurrence in my life that changed my plans for the future: I was not chosen to be an RA.  I completely bombed the interview. The current RAs and housing department staff member who interviewed me asked a lot of questions about how I would handle certain situations, and my answers seemed shaky and uncertain.  I had a very sheltered childhood, and many of the situations they asked about, such as dealing with students with substance abuse problems or gay and lesbian students being excluded by others, were not things that I had ever come across in my life.  That which I had assumed my life would revolve around next year had not happened, just as Brittany’s assumption that the Toros would go on to win did not happen. I was going to need to make new plans, eventually.

January 25, 1995.  Writing dirty limericks.

I walked across the street from Wellington Hall to the Memorial Union.  I had just finished my first math midterm of winter quarter, and I felt good about it.  The topic of the test was partial derivatives, and while I had never learned about partial derivatives before, or even heard the term until a few weeks ago, everything we had done so far had seemed fairly straightforward.

I liked this math class so far.  None of my IHP classmates were in my class, but there were a few familiar faces from last quarter, including Andrea Briggs from Building B and Jack Chalmers from building F.  The instructor was a tall blonde woman named Shelley Bryce. Like Jimmy Best from my last class, Shelley was a graduate student in the mathematics department. She was a bit more reserved than Jimmy Best, and she seemed less comfortable in front of the class, but I still understood everything so far.

I had a two hour break before chemistry class, so I rode back to my room.  I turned on the computer and checked my email. There was only one message.  It was from Brendan Lowe, who lived upstairs in room 322 and had a really sick sense of humor.  The subject of the email said “FW: Fwd: Re: FW: FW: Dirty limericks.” In other words, this was going to be something wildly inappropriate that he received from someone else and passed on to the rest of the IHP, just as he did at least once a day on average.  Hopefully, he took Karen Francis off of his forwarding list; I learned the hard way a couple weeks ago that Karen did not like getting chain emails like this one.

The dirty limericks that I read were so funny, and caused me to laugh so loud, that Aaron heard me through the wall and asked me later that day what the commotion was.

My chemistry class that day was about easy stuff, so I was really only half paying attention.  The other half of my brain was attempting to think up my own dirty limericks to go with the ones that Brendan had shared.  I started thinking of words that could rhyme. I thought of names of places, so I could use them in the first line. “There once was a man from Jeromeville,” I wrote; I crossed it out a minute later when I realized that nothing rhymes with Jeromeville.  I tried thinking of other towns nearby that might be easier to make rhymes with, and after about five minutes, I scribbled this:

A pretty young girl from Blue Oaks
Made a dildo from bicycle spokes.
Now she’s doing all right
‘Cause she gets some each night
But she always complains how it pokes.

Next, I started thinking of body parts.  Penis. Dick. Cock. Wiener. This could work.  By the end of class, I had another one written in my notebook:

There once was a man named McGee
With a small dick that no one could see.
I’d bet, I’m no liar
That unlike Oscar Mayer,
This wiener you’d not want to be.

Earlier in the week, I had been sitting at the dining commons with Gina Stalteri and some others from my building.  I walked up to the table as Gina was making a joke about a tool that was designed to measure a guy’s penis size. Later, she started talking about her roommate Skeeter frequently staying up late on an IRC chat talking to some guy in another state.  Skeeter’s real name was Jennifer, but everyone called her Skeeter because one of her friends from childhood had thought she looked like Skeeter from the Muppet Babies cartoon. I could definitely see the resemblance. Also, having a distinct nickname made life easier when you had a common first name like Jennifer.

I had one more class that afternoon, but my mind was still on writing dirty limericks.  I kept going back to the things Gina was saying at dinner the other night. And, not long afterward, I had this:

There once was a roommate named Skeeter;
This IRC guy liked to greet her.
If the two ever met,
She may finally get
To use Gina’s new Peter Meter.

I heard the professor saying something that reminded me that I was still in class and had better pay attention.  So I started taking notes more carefully and put the dirty limericks aside for a while.

 

At dinner that night, I looked around for a place to sit.  I saw Sarah, Krista, Ramon, Liz, Pete, Tabitha from Building B, and a girl with curly brown hair whom I did not recognize, at a table with one open seat between Liz and Pete.  I walked over and asked if I could join them.

“What’s up?” Ramon asked, seeing me approach.

“Hi, Greg!” Liz said.  “Come join us!”

“This is Jeanette,” Sarah said, gesturing toward the curly-haired girl.  “And this is Tabitha,” she continued, gesturing toward Tabitha.

“I’ve met Tabitha,” I said, as Tabitha simultaneously said, “I know Greg.”

“How are you?” Sarah asked me.

“I’m good.  I had a math midterm this morning.  I thought it was pretty easy.”

“Have you gotten your payment turned in yet?” Tabitha asked Krista.

“Yes,” Krista said.  “I’m going for sure.”

“Good!”

“What are you going to?” I asked.

“We have a retreat for JCF coming up next weekend.  It’s at a Christian conference center in the hills outside of Bidwell.”

“That sounds fun!  Are a lot of people going?”

“I heard that probably about 50 people from Jeromeville are going.  I don’t know how many people are coming from the other schools.”

“Other schools?”

“Jeromeville Christian Fellowship is part of an organization called InterVarsity,” Liz explained.  “They have chapters at colleges all over the USA and a few other countries. And the chapters from Cap State and Bidwell State and a few other schools will be at this retreat too.”

“That’s cool,” I said.  “Sounds like a fun time.”

The conversation then turned back to classes.  Given the fact that the entire rest of the table had just been talking about their church retreat, I figured that now would not be a good time to mention my dirty limericks.

 

After checking the mail (I had none), I walked back to the building.  Gina, Mike Adams, and David were sitting in the common room having a rather loud conversation.

“Charlie told me that last night, he was coming back from a late class, and he walked in on Pat and Karen.  They were so loud, they didn’t even notice he came in.”

“Whoa!” Mike shouted.  “They didn’t even notice?”

“That’s what Charlie said– Oh, hey, Greg.  What are you up to?”

“Actually,” I said, “remember the other day when Brendan sent those dirty limericks?”

“Those were hilarious!” Mike said.

“I know.  I’ve been writing some dirty limericks of my own.”

“No way!” Gina exclaimed.  “Let’s hear one!” I told her from memory the one about Skeeter, and she opened her mouth as if to say that she couldn’t believe I said that.  “That’s great!” she said, laughing hard. “You even got the Peter Meter in there!”

Next, I shared the one about the bicycle spokes; the two guys were listening as well by then.  “Ouch!” Mike exclaimed. “Who would do that? I mean, it isn’t like it’s hard to find a dildo! Why make one from bicycle spokes?  That’s brilliant!”

“Did you write any other ones about people from here?” Gina asked.  “You should write one about Karen and Pat.”

“That would be funny!” I said.  I started thinking aloud. “There once was a girl named Karen… what rhymes with Karen?”  I sat and thought. “There once was a girl named Karen, at whose tiny breasts Pat was starin’.”  The three of them laughed, but I said, “I don’t really like it. I think I can do better than forcing words that don’t really rhyme.”

The others started talking about something else, but I continued to work on my poem about Karen.  What else rhymes with Karen? Maybe I could do something better if Karen wasn’t the word that I was trying to rhyme.  Hmmm…

“There once was this girl, Karen Francis,” I said, “who always let Pat in her pantses.”

“Pantses!” Gina said, laughing.  “This is great! I didn’t know you could write like this!”

“I really didn’t either.  I tried making a few Weird Al-type song parodies as a kid, but they were terrible.”

“So what’s the rest of it?”

“I haven’t thought of it yet.  Maybe it’ll come to me if I take a walk.”

“Go for it.”

I left Building C.  It was dark by now, and cold outside.  I should have brought a sweatshirt. I could always go back and get one if I end up being out here a long time.  I walked from one end of the South Residential Area to the other, in between the twelve identical lettered buildings, the trees planted around them, and the grassy area in front of the dining commons.  I heard the faint sounds of music playing from some of the buildings. It was a clear night, but I could only see a few very bright stars, because of the light posts along these walkways. The moon was not out.  I contemplated what the rest of the poem could be about, and I kept coming back to what Gina had said about Charlie walking in on Karen and Pat. I thought of other words that rhymed with Francis and pantses. And over the course of about five minutes, as I wandered between the buildings of the South Residential Area, it came to me.

I returned to the common room of Building C; Gina and Mike and David were still there.  As soon as I made eye contact with Gina, I began reciting my poem:

“There once was this girl, Karen Francis,
Who always let Pat in her pantses.
Charles came in and said,
‘Stop using my bed
For doing your horizontal dances!’”

“Horizontal dances!  Where do you come up with this stuff?” Gina asked.

“It just kind of came to me.”

“You’re hilarious!  You should keep doing this.”

“Thanks.”

“I didn’t know you wrote.  You’re a math guy. Have you ever thought about doing anything with your writing?”

“Not really.  This is new to me too.”

“Well, I think you’re hilarious.  I need to go study, but this was fun.  Thanks for the laugh.”

“You’re welcome.”

Gina, Mike, and David all climbed the stairs.  I followed them, getting off with Mike on the second floor as Gina and David continued up to the third floor.  Writing for fun really was pretty new to me. I did have a creative side going back to my childhood. As a kid, I often got great ideas for video games, but my limited programming skills and the limited hardware capabilities of the Commodore 64 left almost all of my video game ideas unfinished.  In my teens, I would draw comic books and copy them on the copier at my mom’s work; my brother and some of his friends got involved in my little publishing business too. But my artwork was terrible, and the story lines were shallow and childish. Mom probably saved a lot of those in a box somewhere in the attic, but I haven’t looked at them in decades.

These limericks, along with the depressing poems I wrote a few weeks earlier while I was listening to Pink Floyd, were really the start of my hobby of creative writing for fun.  I never wanted to make a career out of it, and it isn’t something I do on any sort of a regular basis. I just have a lot of thoughts in my head that I want to share. Sometimes I just write to make people laugh, like with these dirty poems.  But sometimes writing also helps me to sort out thoughts on my mind, and sometimes other people’s reactions to my writing help me see a different perspective on the situations that inspired me to write. Obviously, I still write today, because you’re reading this right now.  So feel free to leave comments and help me see the memories of my past from a different perspective.

(Author’s note:  Again, these are all real poems that I actually wrote in 1995.  Most of the other dirty limericks I found from that time involved inside jokes that were too much to explain now.  I don’t even remember some of those inside jokes.)