March 28-29, 1995. Back home, finding a new home, and visiting an old home. (#31)

“Remember the rule,” Mom said.  “Don’t shout out the answer until time is up, so we can have time to think about it.”

“I know,” I replied.  In our family, this was called the Malcolm X Rule.  A few years ago, the answer to the Final Jeopardy! question was Malcolm X, and Dad shouted out the answer before Mom was even done reading the question.  To this day, if Mom is watching Jeopardy! with other people in the room, she has to remind them of the Malcolm X Rule, and on those rare occasions when I am not alone while watching Jeopardy!, I tell people the rule as well.

“Did you still want to look at that apartment guide tonight?” Mom asked.

“Sure.  I’ll go get it.  We can look at it after Jeopardy! is off.”

I climbed the stairs to my room.  It was spring break, and I was back at my parents’ house in Plumdale for the week.  Tomorrow was the only day I had plans for, and I was a little nervous about that, but it would certainly make for an interesting day.

I ran down the stairs, holding the apartment guide, taking the stairs two at a time to make sure I got back to the TV before Jeopardy! came back from the commercial, but not running too loudly because Dad was asleep.  I had no place to live for next year, and I learned too late that apartments in Jeromeville fill up quickly. Jeromeville is a fairly small city with a large university, so students dominate the rental market, and most leases run from September through August.  Apartments are listed on March 1 to rent for the following September, and people had told me that most apartments are leased within the first few weeks of this process. By the time I figured out that everyone I knew was making living arrangements for next year, everyone I knew already had a roommate, and most of them had signed leases, so I was a little panicked about that.  The Associated Students organization publishes an apartment guide every year, which is what I held in my hands now, so at least that would help narrow down where I could find an appropriately sized and priced apartment, once I know whom, if anyone, I would be living with.

“Let’s see what our contestants know about Colonial America,” Alex Trebek said on the TV.  “Here is your clue: ‘President of the Continental Congress 1775-77, he was reelected in 1785 but didn’t serve due to illness.’”  The music played as the three contestants, Mom, and I thought about who this early American was.

“I don’t know,” Mom said as the song stopped and time ran out.  “I keep thinking George Washington, but I’m probably missing something.”

“I was going to say John Hancock.  His signature was first, so maybe he was President in 1776, I was thinking.”

“I bet you’re right.”

Each of the contestants revealed their answer, and Alex told them if they were correct or not.  John Hancock was correct, and two contestants got it right. Mom started looking through the apartment guide, as if to get a feel for what our options were.

“These are expensive!” she said.  That was definitely not what I needed to hear.  Of course, Mom hadn’t been in the market to rent an apartment since the early 1970s, so I don’t know if she had a good idea of how much rent was in a normal city.  I had no idea either, so I didn’t know if apartments in Jeromeville were more expensive than apartments in a normal city.

“Look at this place,” Mom said, pointing to the listing for some ritzy-sounding apartment in West Jeromeville.  “‘Includes access to Stone Park Country Club.’ You don’t need something like that.”

“I agree.”

“So what can you tell me about any of these places?”

“Central and Downtown Jeromeville are closest to campus, so that’d be an advantage to living there, but those are mostly older areas.  There’s one part of North Jeromeville with a whole lot of apartments and two grocery stores nearby, and easy bus access to campus, and those areas look pretty nice.  I’m probably most interested in those areas; the other parts of Jeromeville are getting farther away from campus, and I don’t want to be too far away.”

Mom and I continued looking at apartments; I made a mark next to the ones I wanted to look at more closely.  “How much money do we have to work with?” I asked. “What if I don’t find a roommate? Can we afford for me to live alone?”

“Don’t worry about it.  If we can’t, then you can always look for a part time job.  Or answer a roommate wanted ad.”

“You keep saying not to worry, and I appreciate it, but I need a number.  How much money? I need to know, so I can decide which places to call first, and whether or not I’ll need to get a job or room with a stranger.”

“Hmm,” Mom said, flipping through the apartment guide again.  “I think we can do $500 a month. We’ll make it work.”

With this additional parameter, I narrowed the decision to five apartment complexes that I would call and visit as soon as I got back to Jeromeville.  I had no idea if any of these apartment complexes still had vacancies. I didn’t have a timeline on how quickly Jeromeville runs out of apartments, so I didn’t know how likely these places were to have something still available.

I also felt guilty that my parents were spending that much money on me.  Some parents don’t help their children with college at all. I could have saved a lot of money by finding a roommate earlier, like everyone else did, and even though I didn’t realize I had to do this, it felt like my fault that I didn’t.  Getting my own apartment felt like a privilege I didn’t deserve, even though Mom seemed okay with it. Maybe I would look for a job for next year. I didn’t know what kind of job I was looking for, though. And this arrangement was only for one year; I’d do a better job of finding roommates for junior year when the time came.

“So what time are you meeting Melissa tomorrow?” Mom asked, changing the subject.

“Nine.”

“At the school?”

“Yes.”

“I think it’ll be fun to see all your old teachers.  Which teachers are you going to see?”

“I don’t know.  We’re going to see Mrs. Norton and Mr. Jackson for sure.”

“That’ll be fun.”

“I hope so.”

 

The next morning, I left the house in time to get to Plumdale High School at nine o’clock in the morning, just as I had planned.  Melissa Holmes had sent me an email a week ago asking if I was going to be home for spring break. She was coming home from San Angelo University and wanted to visit Plumdale High and say hi to some of our old teachers.  UJ and SAU had the same schedule, but our spring break was a different week from Plumdale High’s, so this was a regular school day for Plumdale High.

I saw Melissa’s little red Toyota Tercel in the parking lot.  I wasn’t sure exactly where to look for her, if she expected me to go to the office or to Mrs. Norton’s room or Mr. Jackson’s room or what, but as I got closer I noticed that Melissa was still sitting in the car.  I stepped outside. It was cold and overcast, with the marine fog layer hanging low overhead; I wore my sweatshirt that said JEROMEVILLE and had the university seal on it.

“Hey, Greg,” Melissa said, walking toward me and giving me a hug.  “How’s it going? How was your break?”

“Good so far.  I haven’t really done anything.  Just hung out with family. How are you?  Are you making any new friends at school? I remember we talked about that a while ago.”

“Yeah, I’ve started meeting people from classes, and from church.  It gets kind of lonely not living in a dorm.”

“But it’s cheaper for you living with your grandmother,” I said.  “And you probably also get more quiet study time than you would in a dorm.”

“Good point.”

“So does anyone know we’re coming today?”

“I had my brother tell Mrs. Norton we were coming.  Other than that, though, no.”

Melissa and I spent a few more minutes catching up in the parking lot, then we walked toward Mrs. Norton’s classroom.  Back in 1995, school security wasn’t as big of a thing as it is now. Students didn’t wear ID cards on lanyards, and neither did teachers.  Visitors didn’t need passes, and many school campi didn’t even have fences around them. There was a chain link fence across the front of the PHS parking lot, with one of the full time campus supervisors stationed at the entrance to the parking lot, in a little booth, but that wasn’t an issue, because she knew me and she let me in.  She did ask if I had permission to be there, though; I said I was home on spring break, and that Mrs. Norton knew I was coming. That was good enough.

“Hey there!” Mrs. Norton said, in her distinct voice and accent, after we walked into her classroom.  Mrs. Norton was born and raised in Mississippi. “And Greg! You’re here too!” Mrs. Norton had been our teacher for AP Calculus last year, and she had been one of my favorite teachers at Plumdale High.  I also had her for the second semester of Algebra II as a sophomore.

“Hi,” I said.  “I hope that’s okay.  It sounds like you didn’t know I was going to be here.”

“Sure!”  Addressing the class, Mrs. Norton said, “Do y’all know Melissa and Greg?  They both graduated from here last year.” Mrs. Norton turned to us and explained, “This is Algebra II, so it’s mostly juniors, with some sophomores and a few seniors.”

“Right,” I said.

“So what are y’all majoring in?  Melissa, you’re pre-med, right?”

“Yes,” Melissa answered.  “Majoring in biology, specifically.”

“I’m technically undeclared,” I said.  “But right now I’m thinking I’m going to major in math.  I still like math, and I’m still good at math.”

“That’s great!” Mrs. Norton said.  “You’ll do great in math.”

Mrs. Norton finished the example she was working on, and when she gave the class a few minutes to work, she talked to us for a few more minutes, asking how we liked being away from home and things like that.  She eventually asked if we were going to visit anyone else while we were here, and Melissa said that we were going to see Mr. Jackson.

After the current period ended and the next one started, Melissa and I left for Mr. Jackson’s class, waiting until the end of the passing period in order to avoid the crowds trying to get to class on time.  Mr. Jackson was our teacher for AP English last year. He was tall and thin with curly gray hair, and he looked like he had been involved with theater at some point in his life. My mom told me once in the car on the way home that she thought he was gay, except that she used some much more inappropriate words in her description.  I didn’t care if he was or not, and it made me a little uncomfortable the way Mom talked about people behind their backs that way. I had to see and interact with Mr. Jackson every day of senior year with Mom’s inappropriate comment in the back of my head all the time.

“Melissa!” Mr. Jackson shouted enthusiastically as she walked into the classroom, with me right behind.  “Greg! You’re here too!” Mr. Jackson turned to his class of freshmen and added, “This is Melissa and Greg.  They graduated from Plumdale High last year. Melissa is at San Angelo University, and Greg is at… sorry, remind me?”

“Jeromeville.”

“Jeromeville!  That’s right. You’re wearing the sweatshirt and everything, I just noticed.  How do you guys like it?”

“I’m doing well in my classes,” Melissa said.  “And I live off campus, so it’s nice and quiet.”

“I’m in a dorm called the Interdisciplinary Honors Program,” I explained.  “I have some classes specifically for students in that program, so I know the people in my building better than if I had just been assigned a dorm randomly.  I’ve made some really good friends. And I’m still getting good grades. I’m thinking I’m going to major in math.”

“You were always good at math,” Mr. Jackson said.  “I could see that.”

Mr. Jackson got his class started on an assignment, and in between giving instructions to students, he continued catching up with us.  Melissa told him about how her family was doing, and mentioned that her brother was a sophomore at PHS currently and would probably have Mr. Jackson as a senior.  Mr. Jackson asked me more about the IHP, how it worked, and why I decided on math for my major.

After about fifteen minutes, we said our goodbyes to Mr. Jackson and his class and walked into the hallway.  “I need to get home,” Melissa told me. “I have something I need to get to. But it was good to see you, Greg.”

“You too!” I said.  “I think I’m going to stick around for a bit and say hi to a few other teachers.”

“You should!  Have a great day, and let me know who else you see.”

“I will.”

“Are there any students here who you still talk to?”

“Rachel Copeland is the only one who has really kept in touch at all.  I don’t know where she is right now, though.  She doesn’t know I’m here.”

“I don’t know either.  I’m sure you could ask.”

“Yeah.”

“Have a good one, Greg.  Take care.”

“You too.”

Melissa walked back toward the parking lot.  I walked to Mr. Peterson’s classroom. He taught economics to seniors all day, and he had also attended the University of Jeromeville, in the 1960s when it was much smaller.  His door was open, and I could hear him lecturing as I approached and quietly poked my head in the door.

“Jeromeville!  Go Colts!” he said upon seeing me and my sweatshirt, without missing a beat in his lecture at all.  “How’re you doing, Greg? It’s good to see you!”

“You too,” I said.  “I’m doing well. I really like my classes, and I’ve made a lot of great friends in my dorm.”

“Do you have a few minutes?  We can talk a little more after I finish this up.”

“Sure,” I said, as my eyes scanned the room and I became more aware of my surroundings.  This was a class of exclusively seniors, as I said, and many of the honor students appeared to be in this class.  I recognized over half of them, including the girl with straight light brown hair who was now waving at me and beckoning me to sit in the empty seat next to her.

“Hi, Rachel!” I whispered as I sat in this empty seat.

“You didn’t tell me you were coming here!” Rachel whispered back.

“It was kind of last minute,” I replied; I wanted to explain about Melissa inviting me, but Mr. Peterson was talking at this point, and I also didn’t want to interrupt his class.  A few minutes later, I felt something under my desk; it was Rachel, passing me a note. I quietly unfolded it and read. Come sit with us at lunch, same spot as last year, Rachel wrote.  I replied Ok and slyly passed it back to her.

I visited a little more with Mr. Peterson when he got the chance to come talk to me; we made the usual small talk about college and classes and future plans.  Now that I had committed to being on campus at least until lunch, since I had to go sit with Rachel and her friends, I had to find things to do for another period and a half.  After I was done talking to Mr. Peterson, I walked around campus and said hi to as many teachers, administrators, and staff members as I had time to see. I had a wonderful time catching up with everyone.  Mrs. Carter, the college and career counselor who helps students with applications and scholarships and the like, asked me to fix her computer, just as she had done multiple times during my senior year. My English teacher from sophomore year, Ms. Woolery, was teaching a class of freshman with reading skills below grade level, and she asked if I had a few minutes to talk a little bit about college and answer their questions.  I wasn’t at all prepared to do something like that, but I did anyway. It is always nice to feel like I have useful knowledge and experiences to share with others; additionally, Ms. Woolery’s students, many from families in which no one has ever attended college, got an opportunity to hear about college from a peer.

I figured out at some point during my visit to Plumdale High that it was Spirit Week, and today was Beach Day.  I wasn’t wearing anything beach-appropriate, but some students had Hawaiian shirts, surfing-related t-shirts, flip-flops, things like that.  There was a giant pile of sand on the grass in front of the school, which I suspected was probably going to be used for a class competition. Several school clubs had food booths at lunch; I walked in the direction of the food, since I was hungry and Rachel wasn’t yet in the spot where she asked me to meet her.  “Hey, Will,” I said, recognizing a guy from the Computer Graphics and Video Production class I took the year before. Will was a sophomore now.

“Greg!  What’s up?  I haven’t seen you all year!”

“I’m home on spring break.  My friend and I came back to visit all of our teachers.”

Will looked confused for a second.  “Oh, yeah!” he said. “You graduated!  Where are you now?”

“Jeromeville.”

“Where’s that?”

“North.  Near Capital City.”

“Oh, ok.  It was good seeing you!  Have a good one!”

I got in line for curly fries, being sold by the marching band, to raise money for a trip to Disneyland.  I thought it was funny that Will had forgotten that I had graduated last year.

“Greg?” someone said next to me in line.  I turned and saw a sophomore named Jamie Halloran; I was friends with her older sister, Jessica, who had been in my graduating class.

“Hey, Jamie,” I said.  “How are you?”

“I’m great!  Are you on your spring break?”

“Yeah.  Melissa wanted to come say hi to some teachers, and she invited me along, but she had to leave already.”

“Did you hear Jess is in Guatemala?”

“I heard,” I said.  “Volunteering at an orphanage, something like that?”

“Yeah.  Did she write you?  I gave her your address.”

“No, not yet.”  Two weeks before I left for Jeromeville, I saw Jamie at a Plumdale High football game.  I had just learned my mailing address at the time, so I gave it to Jamie and told her to give it to Jessica, but neither of them had written me yet.  I didn’t know at the time that Jessica was going to end up in Guatemala. I don’t know if Jamie or even Jessica knew at that time yet either.

“She says it’s so different from here, but she loves it!  My mom is putting together a package to send her; I’ll write her a note and remind her to write to you.”

“Thanks.”

As I walked with my curly fries to where I expected Rachel to be, I noticed that the class competition had begun; two students from each class were competing to build the tallest sandcastle in a certain time limit.  One of the sandcastle-builders for the junior class was Annie Gambrell; I paused to watch for a few minutes, hoping that Annie would notice me, but she didn’t. This was not a good time to try to talk to her, of course, since she was in the middle of making a sandcastle.  I walked back over to where Rachel had told me to meet her; she was there now, with a few of her friends whom I didn’t know as well.

“So you just woke up and decided to come visit your high school?” Rachel asked.

“Not exactly,” I explained, telling her about Melissa’s invitation and earlier departure.

“Jeromeville is on quarters, so you’ll have new classes when you go back next week, is that right?”

“Yes.  I’m taking math, physics, chemistry, and a class for the IHP called Psychology and the Law.”

“That sounds interesting.  What’s that last one about?”

“I’m not really sure, except that it’s about psychology, and the law,” I explained.  Rachel laughed. “It’s the heaviest course load I’ve had so far, but math and chemistry are pretty easy to me, and physics was always easy in high school, so I should be okay.”  (I wasn’t as okay as I thought I would be in terms of my classes, but that’s a story for later.)

“Do you need physics and chemistry for a math major?”

“Physics, yes, one year.  I was also thinking about majoring in physics, which would need chemistry; I haven’t decided for sure yet.  Chemistry, not for math, but I would if I majored in physics. Physics for science and engineering majors doesn’t start until spring quarter, so I haven’t had physics at all yet.  I’ll see how that goes before I decide for sure.”

“That makes sense,” Rachel said, nodding.  “So what does it feel like being back?”

“It’s good to see everyone.  But it’s a little weird too. It’s like, class competitions, flyers all over the place advertising the dance, those people making out behind us, all that stuff is high school stuff, and I’m not in high school anymore.”

“That makes sense.  I certainly won’t miss all that stuff when I get out of here next year.”

“Do you know where you’re going yet?  The last time we talked about it, I think you wanted to go to St. Elizabeth’s.”

“That’s still my first choice.  They should start sending out acceptance letters in about a week, they said.”

“I’ve never been there.”

“It’s such a beautiful campus.  And it’s a small school. And I’m not Catholic, but there’s something spiritual about that campus that I liked when I visited,” Rachel said.  I wasn’t sure what she meant by spiritual, her tone sounded kind of New Age-ish, but hey, whatever works.

A while later, just after the bell rang to end lunch, Rachel said, “I’m glad I got to see you today, Greg.  Will you be here the rest of the day?”

“I think I’m just going to go home.  I’ve seen everyone I wanted to say hi to, pretty much, and I’m getting tired.  But I’m glad we got to hang out.”

“Okay.  Call me any time.  And I’ll write you soon.”

“I will.”

“Bye, Greg.”  Rachel hugged me.

“Have a good day,” I said, turning around toward the parking lot.  I took a few steps, then turned back toward campus. I considered for a few seconds trying to figure out what class Annie Gambrell had, so I could say hi to her, since she was busy earlier.  I gave her my address at Homecoming, and she hadn’t written me; maybe she lost it. No, probably not; people just don’t write like they say they will. And she had a boyfriend, so I shouldn’t be getting my hopes up anyway.  Then again, maybe they broke up; it had been almost six months since I’d last seen Annie. No, I told myself, forget it. I kept walking toward the car.

I turned on the classic rock radio station as I drove home, listening to music of the 1960s and 1970s.  Fleetwood Mac. The Rolling Stones. Supertramp. High school was over. Sometimes I wished it wasn’t. I felt like I had a lot of unfinished business in high school.  I stepped pretty far out of my comfort zone during my senior year, and I made some great new friends, but then all of a sudden I graduated and lost touch with most of them, so that part of my life story never got to reach a natural conclusion.  I felt torn, wanting closure, yet also knowing that this part of my life was over, and that I was moving on. And today was the first time I started to feel like I really had moved past high school. When I was still around in the fall going to PHS football games, and when I came back for Homecoming, I felt like I still belonged at PHS.  Today, not so much.

Fittingly, this day was the last time I ever set foot on the Plumdale High campus.  I went to Mark’s graduation in 2000, but it was at the gym at Santa Lucia Community College, not at PHS.  I’ve driven past Plumdale High several times when I’ve come back home to Santa Lucia County, and I’ve taken pictures of it, but I haven’t actually gotten out of the car.  I’ve thought about going back for Homecoming at some point to see what it’s like, especially after the football field was remodeled in 2017, but it hasn’t ever been a high priority.  Also, I don’t know anyone there anymore. The school has changed, and so has the neighborhood, and so have I. Staying connected to the past is important, but not at the expense of the present.

20190615_092117.jpg
Plumdale High School, June 2019, and the little booth at the entrance to the parking lot where the campus supervisor watches everyone who enters.  The athletic fields are in the background; the school itself is to the right, off camera.  This was the best picture I could take from the car on that day.

And thanks to j-archive.com for allowing me to look up what the Final Jeopardy! clue was on March 28, 1995.  I didn’t remember off the top of my head, of course.

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Mid-March 1995. I completely dropped the ball. (#30)

Every Jeromeville student knows that Dr. Andrew E. Bryant is the best professor to get for general chemistry.  His students love him. He has been named Instructor of the Year. He is personable and likeable, better at interacting with students than most people who teach in a 400-seat lecture hall.  Dr. Bryant is known for pulling pranks on his class; I heard about one time on the first day of the quarter when he got some other chemistry professor to pretend like he was going to be teaching the class instead.  This other professor went over a fake syllabus that included far more difficult assignments and strict grading than any reasonable professor would have. A student who was in on the prank kept complaining that this was supposed to be Dr. Bryant’s class, getting the other students worked up.  The whole time, Dr. Bryant was sitting in the class disguised, and he revealed himself to the class about five minutes in. I wish I had been there to see that. Dr. Bryant is everyone’s favorite chemistry professor…

… in 2019.  I didn’t get to take his class, because Dr. Bryant wasn’t at UJ yet in 1995.  He started there in the early 2000s. And he wasn’t even Dr. Bryant yet in 1995; he was still an undergrad, at University of the Bay if I remember right.  Instead of getting a good professor like Dr. Bryant, I got Dr. Albrecht, who was boring and hard to understand because German appeared to be his first language.  And I was nodding off in his class today, because I was up too late last night talking on IRC with this girl named Jenny. (There’s a reason I brought up Dr. Bryant in the first place, but that’s another story for another time.)

I attempted to follow along with Dr. Albrecht’s lecture in the large lecture hall in the chemistry building.  Until this year, this was the largest lecture hall on campus; that really weird-looking concrete building that just opened this year had a larger lecture hall.  I tried to stay awake enough to take notes, but they were considerably less than legible. I became aware in my half-conscious state at one point that Dr. Albrecht was coughing.  After a few more coughs, he said, “Excuse me. I need to get a drink of water.” The sudden change in routine caused me to wake up a little, and I sat up to see Dr. Albrecht step out of the door on the side at the front of the lecture hall.

A little while after this, I heard running water and swallowing sounds.  I looked around, and people began to chuckle when they realized what was going on.  Dr. Albrecht was wearing a cordless lapel microphone, and he had forgotten to turn it off when he went to get water.  When Dr. Albrecht reappeared in the front of the classroom, the class greeted him with wild applause. I don’t know if he ever figured out that he had left his microphone on.

That was certainly the highlight of my classes that day.  The rest of the afternoon, I just did homework and studied.  At dinner time, I sat with a bunch of people from my building.  They were already there when I arrived, so I sat down in the middle of their conversation.

“So we looked at Hampton Place today,” Liz said.

“Which one is that?” Sarah asked.

“It’s behind Albertsons on Andrews and Coventry.  I like that place. It seemed nice and quiet, and it’s just a short walk to Albertsons for groceries.”

“You’d be in a two-bedroom?”

“Yeah.  They said if we give them a deposit by Friday, they’ll save two apartments for us, one right on top of the other.  Caroline and I upstairs, and Ramon and Jason downstairs.”

“That’d be a good arrangement.  Taylor, weren’t you guys looking at apartments today too?”

“Yeah,” Taylor said.  “We signed a lease at The Acacia.  That’s on Acacia Drive, not too far from where Liz was just talking about.”

“That’s you and Charlie and Pete?”

“Yeah.”

I started to get a feeling of dread as I realized what they were talking about.  They were making plans for living arrangements for next year. And all of this planning had happened while I was completely oblivious to it.  I didn’t even think about this as being something I should do right now. The next school year was over six months away. I had time. I didn’t have a roommate, and the thought of living with a roommate was kind of scary, but I surely still had other friends who would need a roommate.

 

A few days later, I got back from classes in the afternoon, went back to Building C, and checked my email from my room.  I had two messages, both of them forwarded chain letters. The first one was from Brendan upstairs, who sent a lot of forwarded chain letters and jokes; this one contained jokes about stereotypes of different universities in this area.


How many Bay students does it take to change a light bulb?
One to change the bulb, fifty-three to protest the bulb’s right to change, and twenty-six to protest the protesters.

How many Jeromeville students does it take to change a light bulb?
None, because Jeromeville doesn’t have electricity.

How many Capital State students does it take to change a light bulb?
One, and he gets five credits for it.

How many Santa Teresa students does it take to change a light bulb?
Twenty-six: one to hold the bulb, and twenty-five to throw a party and get so drunk that everything spins.

How many Walton students does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one; he holds the bulb and the world revolves around him.

How many Valley students does it take to change a light bulb?
None, because Stockdale looks better in the dark.


 

I laughed out loud at that last one.  I had visited the University of the Valley in Stockdale with my family on the same day we first visited Jeromeville, and the surrounding neighborhoods looked really trashy and sketchy.  And… Jeromeville doesn’t have electricity? What’s with that? While that is of course far from the truth, that does seem consistent with the way that urban elites in Bay City and San Tomas see the rest of the state.

The other email was from a girl named Jenny, whom I had met on IRC recently.  It wasn’t a standard chain letter, though; it was one of those things where she wanted her friends to answer questions about themselves.  Jenny answered nine questions that her friend Matt had sent her, then she forwarded the email to nine of her friends with a new nine questions for us to answer.


What is your favorite thing about Fall?
What is your go-to drink?
What favorite treat really hits the sweet spot for you?
Tell me about a favorite date or share a great date night idea.
Do you have a favorite family tradition?
What book(s) are you reading right now?
What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Do you have a secret or hidden talent?
What is one way you served or blessed someone else recently?


 

I hit Reply and started typing.


What is your favorite thing about Fall?
A new school year with a chance to meet girls… um, I mean new friends.

What is your go-to drink?
Coca-Cola.

What favorite treat really hits the sweet spot for you?
M&Ms.  I love those things.  I probably shouldn’t eat as many as I do.

Tell me about a favorite date or share a great date night idea.
Good question… my best date night idea is a night where I actually go on a date.  Because that pretty much doesn’t happen.

Do you have a favorite family tradition?
I don’t remember how this tradition started, but every year at Christmas, we play Trivial Pursuit.  My mom and I are both trivia buffs, and Grandpa also knows a lot of stuff, but he has the advantage of having been alive for some of the history questions.

What book(s) are you reading right now?
I just finished Forrest Gump by Winston Groom.  A lot of the details are different from the movie, but I liked it.  I loved the movie too. I just started reading It by Stephen King. My mom read this book when I was a kid, back when it was new, and I’ve heard it’s really good.

What one piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t be so shy or afraid to try new things!  I made a lot of new friends senior year of high school, and if I had actually gotten out more and met them earlier, I would have had more time before we all went off to college and lost touch.

Do you have a secret or hidden talent?
I know pretty much every highway in the western United States.  My friend Sarah, when we met, she had me guess where she grew up by naming two of the highways in her city, and I did.

What is one way you served or blessed someone else recently?
Yesterday, I was walking around the Memorial Union, looking for a place to kill time between classes.  I saw my friend Tiffany from math class, and she was having a hard time understanding the homework, so I helped her.

And my nine questions for you:
Were you named after anyone or anything, or for any particular reason?
What did you eat for dinner last night?
What’s a movie, TV show, book, song, etc. that you really like that most people haven’t heard of?
If you could go visit anyone currently alive on Earth right now, for one day, and getting yourself there was no object, who would it be, and where is this person?
Where is someplace you enjoy visiting that is not a traditional tourist destination?
Which dead celebrity or historical figure do you most wish had not died?
Coke or Pepsi, or neither, and why?
What do you like on your pizza?
What would you most definitely not want to name your future child, and why?


 

I sent this message to nine friends, all people I knew from the Internet who regularly sent me this kind of stuff.  I didn’t send it to anyone from Building C, because of the time a couple months ago when Karen Francis got so mad at me for forwarding a chain email to the entire building.

I lost track of time while I was studying and doing homework, and I didn’t make it to dinner until after seven o’clock.  None of my usual friends to sit with were there. I sat by myself at a large table, but a few minutes after I sat down, I heard someone ask, “Hey Greg!  What’s up? You mind if we sit with you?” The words were spoken very quickly, so that they almost ran together.

I looked up to see Jack Chalmers, a tall guy with a year-round tan who wore shorts and sandals most of the time, including right now, even though it was only 58 degrees outside.  He was with two other guys I didn’t know. Jack grew up in a beach town that I had never heard of before this year, south of here between Santa Teresa and San Angelo, and he always talked fast.  Jack was in my math class fall quarter, and he lived in Building F.

“Sure,” I said.  “Go ahead.” Jack and his friends sat at my table.

“How’s 21C?” he asked.

“It’s going well.  I still have an A. My instructor is a grad student, and I think it’s her first time teaching.  I had to explain something to her the other day.”

“I like my class this quarter.  The professor’s hard to understand, but I can usually figure it out.  You taking 21D in the spring?”

“Yes.  It’s at 9AM somewhere in Wellington, but I don’t remember the instructor or room number.”

“I’m in that same class.  There’s only one class at 9AM.”

“That’s cool.”

“What are you doing over spring break?”

“Nothing special.  I’m going back home for the week.  One of my friends from high school wants to get together and catch up.”

“You’re from Santa Lucia, right?  Or somewhere near there?”

“Yeah.  Plumdale.”

Gesturing toward one of the other guys at the table, Jack said, “Jeremy and his girlfriend and I and someone else we know are gonna take a road trip to Santa Lucia over break.  We were just talking about the best way to get there from here. What do you think?”

Back in 1995, cars weren’t equipped with GPS, and there was no Google Maps to ask for directions.  In order to figure out how to get somewhere, you had to read a map. A map was this big piece of paper that would fold out, with diagrams of all the roads in the area.  Some people didn’t even read maps well, so they had to get directions by asking someone who was familiar with the area, although in 1995 I had no concept of the fact that some people couldn’t read maps.  But more on that later. I always had this odd fascination with maps and highways, so Jack’s question was perfect for me.

“You know how to get to San Tomas?” I asked.  “100 west to 6 south?”

“Yeah.  Should we keep going to the coast from there?”

“No.  That road always has really bad traffic.  Take 11 south to Plumdale, where I’m from, and then take 127 west.  And if you know where to look from 127, off the right side of the road you can see my high school.  There’s a big mural on the back of the gym that says ‘Tiger Country.’”

“The 127, west,” Jack repeated.  I noticed that Jack said “the 127” instead of “127” or “Highway 127.”  My friend Melissa from high school said that too. She grew up south of me, as did Jack, and this was a peculiarity of the speech pattern of people from that part of the state.   I always thought it sounded funny. In fact, in 2011 I had a girlfriend who said highway numbers with “the” in front; I made fun of her for it once, and she just glared at me. That relationship didn’t work out, although I should clarify that the highway thing was not the primary reason we broke up.

“Yes.  Just follow the signs to Santa Lucia from there.”

“That seems pretty simple,” Jack said.  “So do you know yet where you’re gonna live next year?”

I felt anxious as my brain processed what Jack had asked.  It seemed like literally everyone was talking about this, and I didn’t even know where to start.  “No,” I said.

“Do you have roommates for next year?”

“No.”

“I’ve heard places fill up fast.  You might want to get on that.”

My anxiety spiked even more.  Not only was everyone talking about this; it also seemed to be a bigger deal than I thought, even though it was only March.  “Yeah,” I said. “First, I need to figure out who to live with.”

“What’s your roommate now doing?” Jack asked.  “Would you want to live with him again?”

“I’m in a single room.”

“Hmm.”

“And most of the people I really know well already seem to have plans.”

“You can always find someone looking for a roommate.”

“I guess.  I don’t know what it would be like living with strangers, though.”

“Yeah.  I know a guy who is a junior, and he lives with people he didn’t already know.  They’re all pretty chill, but you might get someone sketchy.”

“Right.”

“Good luck, man.  Want me to tell you if I hear of anyone looking for a roommate?”

“Sure.”

To be honest, I really didn’t want to live with some friend of Jack’s whom I didn’t know.  But at this point, I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I didn’t want to be stuck being homeless.  I felt discouraged, like I had completely dropped the ball on this one.

Back in Building C, Taylor and Pete were sitting in the study lounge.  “Hey, Greg,” Taylor said as I walked into the lobby. I walked toward them.

“What are you guys up to?”

“Nothin’ much.  Just sitting.”

“I have no idea where I’m living next year.  I keep hearing everyone talking about it, and I didn’t even think about it until I overheard everyone.  Does anyone we know still need a roommate?”

“I don’t know,” Pete said.  “Most of the people I’ve talked to already have plans.  But keep asking. Plans might change.”

“And you can always find people looking for roommates,” Taylor added.  “Check the classifieds in the Daily Colt. Or just look around on bulletin boards.  I can let you know if any of our friends from church need a roommate, or anything like that.”

“Yeah.  I’m a little nervous living with strangers, though.”

“That makes sense.  But you never know. You might live with a stranger, and he’ll end up being your best friend.  None of us with roommates in Building C knew each other before this year.”

“That’s true.”

“You’ll figure something out,” Pete said.  “Start looking, but don’t stress about it.”

“I’ll do my best,” I said.

 

Associated Students publishes a guide to finding apartments in Jeromeville every year.  I was vaguely aware that there were stacks of these apartment guides in many of the large buildings around campus, next to the boxes that held the free copies of the Daily Colt.  I took a copy of the AS Apartment Guide the next day and started looking through it during a break between classes.

The city of Jeromeville is colloquially divided into six regions, although these six regions had no official legal status.  The oldest part of Jeromeville, between the campus and the railroad spur leading north to Woodville, is called Downtown Jeromeville.  The areas directly north of downtown and the UJ campus, but south of Coventry Boulevard, are called Central Jeromeville. West Jeromeville is west of Highway 117, North Jeromeville is north of Coventry, East Jeromeville is east of the railroad track and north of Highway 100, and South Jeromeville is south of 100, which means that it is actually southeast of downtown, but as the only part of Jeromeville south of 100, the “south” name stuck over the years.

Downtown Jeromeville was closest to campus, but it was by far the smallest of the six regions, and there were not many apartments downtown.  Central was also close to campus, and also lacking in apartments. Most of the rental properties in those areas were old houses or small apartment buildings that were rented privately by owners and not published in the AS Apartment Guide.  Larger and newer apartment complexes were scattered throughout the other four regions of Jeromeville. The Apartment Guide listed the number of apartments of each size at the complex (which did not necessarily mean that all would be available for the coming year), the monthly rent for each size of apartment, amenities offered by each apartment complex, and the nearest bus line.  The local bus system in Jeromeville is jointly operated by AS and the city, so most of the routes and schedules are very student-centered.

I noticed a large concentration of apartment complexes in a section of north Jeromeville along Alvarez Avenue and Maple Lane. One of the apartments in this area was called Las Casas Apartments; I remembered a few months ago when Mike Adams mentioned a friend who lived there, and I found the name funny because Las Casas literally means “the houses” in Spanish.  That might be a good area to look into; it wasn’t as old as the neighborhoods close to campus, and two grocery stores are nearby.

I also noticed that some apartment complexes in Jeromeville only had one- and two-bedroom apartments, and others, particularly the newer ones farther from campus, also offered three- and four-bedroom apartments.  Some also had studio apartments, which I thought meant that one room was intended to be both a living room and bedroom. One complex called Walnut Tree Apartments in west Jeromeville even had six-bedroom apartments.  As an adult, I now know that apartments this large are quite unusual in normal cities. Jeromeville has a market for large apartments, though, because most rental properties in Jeromeville are rented by groups of students living together.

I still did not know what my situation would be for roommates for next year, nor did I know how much Mom and Dad would be willing to spend on my rent, or if I would have to get a job.  And just about everyone I had asked in Building C already had roommates for next year, with many having already signed leases. The AS Apartment Guide didn’t help with that.

 

One day, during the following week, as everyone was preparing for winter quarter finals, I was doing math problems in the common room downstairs.  Jared, the weird guy from the third floor with the bushy blond hair, walked in, and I waved to him. “Hey, Greg,” Jared said, walking toward me and sitting in a chair next to me.  “Ready for finals?”

“I’m getting there.  What about you?”

“I have so much to do. I have a paper to write, and it’s due tomorrow.”

“I’m more worried about finding a place to live next year than I am about finals,” I said.  “Everyone seems to have plans already, and I had no idea any of this was going on.”

“Yeah.  This guy I’ve had classes with lives in a house just off campus, and they have an opening for next year.  So that’s where I’m going to live.”

I realized about halfway through mentioning my concern about next year’s living arrangements that maybe I shouldn’t say anything in front of Jared, because Jared might want me to live with him.  I really didn’t think I wanted to live with Jared. He was a nice guy, but a little odd. So I was a little relieved that Jared had plans for next year. “Do you know if anyone in this building still needs a roommate?” I asked.

Jared looked like he was thinking about this.  “Phuong?” he said.

“Hmm.  I haven’t talked to Phuong.”  I hadn’t talked to Phuong because the thought of having a girl roommate seemed strange and inappropriate to me.  People would get the wrong idea. And I didn’t know if I felt comfortable living in such close quarters with a girl.

“I hope you figure something out,” Jared said.  “I need to get upstairs and work on my paper.”

“Good luck,” I said as Jared got up and climbed the stairs.  A few minutes later, I went upstairs and back to my room. Later that night, after it was cheaper to call long distance, I called my parents and explained my situation.

“Don’t worry about this,” Mom said.  “We’ll find something. And like you said, the worst case scenario is you have to live with strangers.  But at least you’ll have a place to live.”

“I guess.”

“I’m sure not every apartment in Jeromeville is booked for next year already.”

“That’s not what I’m hearing people say.  Apparently everything here fills up really fast.”

“People are always moving in and moving out.  Something will be open.”

“That’s not how Jeromeville works.  According to the AS Apartment Guide, most apartments in Jeromeville use something called the ‘Jeromeville Model Lease.’  Apparently someone designed this to be student friendly, but what it means is that every apartment operates on a 12-month lease from September to August every year.”

“They can’t all do that, can they?”

“It sounds like they do.  At least most of them. It’s stupid that the city and the university think they can control the economy like that.  That’s Communism. But people like Communism in this socialist People’s Republic of Jeromeville.” Technically, apartment complexes participate in the Jeromeville Model Lease voluntarily, so it is not Communism.  If anything, it is a result of the free market; apartments use this to more easily market themselves to students, who are the overwhelming majority of Jeromeville renters. But thinking through whether or not the Jeromeville Model Lease is actually Communism is not something I wanted to do right now, since I was upset.

“And there’s no way you can be in a dorm again?” Mom asked.

“The dorms are only for freshmen.  At least, you’re only guaranteed a spot for one year.  That’s what I’ve read.”

“If you apply to be in the dorm again, is there a chance you might get in?  Is it too late to apply?”

“I’ll look into that, but I don’t know what my chances are like.”

“Could you commute?  Find an apartment somewhere else, like Woodville?  Or even Capital City. Capital City is huge; I’m sure there are lots of apartments there.  Even if it’s just temporary.”

“Maybe.”

“Don’t worry about that right now.  Take care of finals first. And when you come home after finals, bring the Apartment Guide, and we’ll start to make plans.”

“I guess.  And if I have time, I’ll drive or bike past some of these places to get a better idea of what the neighborhood is like.”

“Sounds like a plan.  See, you’ll figure this out.”

“I guess.”

 

My last final was Thursday afternoon of finals week; I stuck around to unwind and talk to girls on IRC that night, and drove home Friday morning, March 24.   My finals went pretty well. I didn’t find any of them to be particularly difficult, but I still felt a little apprehensive, because I rarely thought I did well on finals.  I always feared the worst. And I also felt bad because I had completely failed at making plans for housing next year. Mom said not to worry, but I did worry, because I didn’t know what was going to happen.  I like having a plan to follow, and this wasn’t one.

But as difficult as it was, I knew that I would be able to make something work.  Maybe I would find a place of my own that wasn’t too unaffordable. I had a feeling that Mom and Dad would be willing to spend money on me, although I hated that.  Mom and Dad had made a lot of bad decisions with their money in the past, and I hated for them to have to spend more because I didn’t do my job of finding roommates.  I know I wouldn’t want that if I were ever a parent someday. I could always try to get a job next year if I felt like I needed to be contributing more.

I grabbed a tape at random and played it when I got far enough south for the Capital City radio stations to become fuzzy.  The tape was R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People album.  I took a deep breath as I tried to let the sounds of alternative pop-rock music and Michael Stipe’s strange lyrics drown out worries of not having a place to live next year.  I was unsuccessful in that.

But maybe it wasn’t all worrisome.  Maybe there was another plan in store for me.  Maybe someone I knew would have a potential roommate back out at the last minute.  Maybe I would be commuting from Woodville, or from Capital City. Maybe I would find strangers to live with, answering a roommate wanted ad or living with friends of friends whom I didn’t know personally.  And wherever I ended up next year, maybe my living situation would lead to something good that would never have happened had I lived somewhere different. One can never tell.

In hindsight, knowing how this part of my story turned out, I can definitely say that that last part is true; my living situation for sophomore year did in fact directly lead me to do something one night, which in turn led to something which changed my life forever.

 


AUTHOR’S NOTE from 2019:  Jenny, who wrote the email with all the questions to answer, is not an actual IRC friend from 1995; she is a current reader of this blog, who nominated me for another Sunshine Blogger Award.  The rules are to thank the blogger who nominated you, answer the 11 questions the blogger asked you, nominate new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.  Thank you, Jenny!  I don’t normally nominate people for stuff like this, as I said, but if any of you reading this want to do it on your blog, go for it.  And post a link to your blog below so other people can go take a look at it.

Go check out Jenny at http://progressinbloom.com

In the story, I only answered nine questions, because two of Jenny’s questions for me refer to blogging, which didn’t exist in 1995.  So here are those answers:

How long have you been blogging for and why did you start?
I started this blog in December 2018, because I like telling stories about my past, and I’m old enough now that life is very different now than it was in 1995, which makes the stories inherently more interesting.

What makes a blog article worth sticking around for— one you truly enjoy reading?
Good question.  I would say being able to relate is a good characteristic (which also applies to books and movies and TV for me).  I’m not going to read a blog about, say, the best way to have a great one-night stand, because I won’t ever have a one-night stand.

And my 11 questions for anyone who chooses to participate:

  • Were you named after anyone or anything, or for any particular reason?
  • What did you eat for dinner last night?
  • What’s a movie, TV show, book, song, etc. that you really like that most people haven’t heard of?
  • If you could go visit anyone currently alive on Earth right now, for one day, and getting yourself there was no object, who would it be, and where is this person?
  • Where is someplace you enjoy visiting that is not a traditional tourist destination?
  • Which dead celebrity or historical figure do you most wish had not died?
  • Coke or Pepsi, or neither, and why?
  • What do you like on pizza?
  • What would you most definitely not want to name your future child, and why?
  • iPhone or Android or neither, and why?
  • What celebrity do you enjoy following on social media the most, and if you don’t follow celebrities on social media, why not?  (It’s up to you whether or not someone counts as a celebrity)