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.”
“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.”
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?”
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?”
“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!”
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!”
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.
c: hi gjd!
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
“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.
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.
Taylor (left-center), his wife (lower left), and me (foreground on the right) at a baseball game in Bay City, 2019.