Back in the 1990s, all of the hottest names in alternative rock played the Lollapalooza festival. The festival toured major cities around the United States every summer, bringing live music along with other performances and attractions. Critics called Lollapalooza an event that changed the history of music forever.
I never attended a Lollapalooza show. I did not go to big concerts back then, and I felt a little scared to do so, knowing the kind of people that an event like Lollapalooza attracted. In my life, the legacy of Lollapalooza was all of the advertising campaigns, small local events, and the like with names ending in “-palooza.” This was similar to the excessive use of the suffix “-gate” to name political scandals, after the burglary at the Watergate Building in Washington, D.C. in 1972, which led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. If something had a name ending in “-palooza,” everyone knew that it was going to be life-changing… or at least the person organizing and naming the event believed that it would be life-changing.
A little over a week ago, I had been at the final meeting of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship for this school year, talking to people afterward about the upcoming finals week. Brian Burr approached me, handing out small postcard-sized flyers. He was tall and athletic, a high jumper on the University of Jeromeville’s track team, with reddish-brown hair. He was graduating this year, and next year he would be staying in Jeromeville to work with JCF part-time and apply to medical school. Brian and I were going to share an apartment next year, along with Shawn, my current Bible study leader and one of Brian’s current housemates.
“Grad-a-palooza,” Brian said in an overly dramatic and exaggerated tone as he handed me his flyer. I took the flyer and read it.
A celebration of the graduation of the gentlemen of 1640 Valdez Street
Mr. Brian Burr
Mr. Shawn Yang
Mr. Michael Kozlovsky
Mr. Daniel Conway
Saturday, June 15, 1996
6pm until whenever
1640 Valdez St., Jeromeville
“Graduation party?” I asked. “At your house?”
“Yes. Saturday, the 15th. Right after finals are done.”
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll be there.”
In hindsight, it was not entirely necessary for me to repeat back that it was a graduation party; this was obvious from the flyer. I suppose I asked because I was surprised; I had never been invited to a college graduation party. I did not know any seniors last year.
Yesterday, Friday, was the last scheduled day for finals, but my last final had been on Thursday morning. I had spent the last two and a half days doing a fat load of nothing. I went for bike rides, I read, I worked on my novel, and I wasted a lot of time on the Internet with Usenet groups and IRC chats. It was wonderful, and so far there had not been another incident like the one a few days ago.
When I moved to Jeromeville to start school, someone gave me a camera as a going-away present. The camera then spent twenty-one months in a drawer, unused. Yesterday I remembered that I had a camera, and I bought film and batteries, so I was ready to preserve some memories from Brian and Shawn’s party tonight.
Valdez Street was in south Jeromeville, on the other side of Highway 100 from me. I drove east on Coventry Boulevard and turned right on G Street toward downtown. As I approached downtown, I drove past progressively older houses and apartment complexes; after crossing Fifth Street, G Street became a commercial corridor. It was Saturday night, and I had to drive slowly, watching for pedestrians and bicycles. At least three households of JCF students were neighbors on Valdez Street and Baron Court, and as I got to know these people more, I often wished I could be part of that community. Most of these people who were not graduating would be dispersing to other parts of Jeromeville next year, though, so a community like that may not exist next year. I at least had the new apartment with Brian and Shawn to look forward to, even if we would not be neighbors with a large group of friends.
The student population of Jeromeville was gradually emptying as students finished finals, but I still had to park farther away from Brian and Shawn’s house than usual. I could hear muffled music and conversation as I approached the house; apparently this was a big party. I walked in and looked around; music was playing, and people were talking loudly. Hopefully I would be able to hear when people talked to me.
“Greg!” Brian called out, waving, as he saw me from across the room. “Come on in!”
I had been in this house four times before, and I had never seen it this full. People were sitting on couches, in chairs, on the floor, and on the stairs. A streamer that said “CONGRATULATIONS CLASS OF 1996” hung from the wall.
“How’d your finals go?” Brian asked.
“I think I did well. What about you?”
“They weren’t great, but I passed.”
“Congratulations! Your ceremony was this morning?”
“Yeah. Mom and Dad and my sister came for the day. We went out to dinner, then they left about an hour ago.”
“Thanks! Enjoy the party!”
Someone I did not recognize got up and walked toward the bathroom; I sat in his vacated seat. I knew about half the people here from JCF, and I recognized some other JCF people whom I did not know well. I assumed that the guys who lived here probably had other friends, so not everyone here would be from JCF. I pulled out my camera and took a few candid shots of people sitting around talking.
Kristina, a sophomore who lived around the corner on Baron Court, walked past me. “Greg!” she said. “What’s up?”
“Not much. How were finals?”
“Hard! But they’re over now! How were yours?”
“I think I did fine,” I said. “Is–” I caught myself before finishing my question, Is Haley here? Six years ago, in eighth grade, Paul Dickinson had figured out that I liked Rachelle Benedetti, and within a few days the whole school knew. Ever since then, any time I had any sort of romantic interest or crush, I treated it like a closely guarded secret which no one must ever find out. “Are any of your roommates here?” I asked instead. That way, my question would get answered without Kristina suspecting that I liked Haley.
“Kelly and Jeanette are here somewhere. Haley went home on Thursday after her last final.”
“Oh, ok.” I was a little disappointed that I would not see Haley for the next three months, but also relieved that, with Haley not here, I would have no opportunities to embarrass myself in front of her. “What are you up to this summer?” I asked.
“Taking classes. You?”
“Same. Well, one class first session. Probably just hanging out here second session. I’m going to my parents’ house next week.”
“Nice. I’ll probably see you around campus.”
I walked around, making small talk and asking people their plans for the summer. Most of the people here were not going to be in Jeromeville. That did not bode well for my hope of having a social life this summer. I knew that JCF was running one small group Bible study this summer, so that was something. And I would still be singing at church; I knew some people from church who would be around this summer.
I got up to use the bathroom. A decoration on the bathroom wall above the toilet said “We aim to please, you aim too please.” At first, my mind parsed that as “we aim to please, you aim to please” with a word misspelled. I did not understand why the phrase needed to be repeated. I did not get the joke until I flushed the toilet; the second part was supposed to say “you aim too, please,” as in “please don’t pee on the floor.” I laughed out loud at my sudden realization. Hopefully no one found it strange that someone was laughing in the bathroom.
I returned to the living room, realizing that I had not talked to Shawn Yang yet, although I probably knew him the best of all the guys who lived at this house. I saw Shawn on the couch with a middle-aged Asian couple. I approached him, and he said, “Hey, Greg. Have you met my parents yet?”
“No,” I said. “I’m Greg.”
“I’m John,” Mr. Yang said, shaking my hand. “And this is Judy.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“Greg is going to be my roommate next year,” Shawn explained. “And he’s a math major too.”
“Oh you are?” Mr. Yang asked. “You gonna be a teacher too?”
“I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” I said. “I don’t really see myself as a teacher.”
“You’re not graduating this year?”
“No. I’m a sophomore.”
“You guys are from Ashwood? Is that right?”
“Yeah. What about you? Where are you from?”
“Plumdale.” Without thinking, I added, “Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia.” Most people have no idea where Plumdale is.
“It’s nice out there!”
“Yeah. I’ll be in Jeromeville most of the summer, but I’m going home next week.”
After a lull in the conversation, Mr. Yang said, “It was nice meeting you!”
I was ready for another break from socializing, so I walked outside. It was a little before eight o’clock, and it was still light out; in Jeromeville, the sun does not set until close to nine this time of year. Two guys were throwing a Frisbee back and forth in the street, moving out of the way whenever a car approached. Eddie, Xander, Lars, and a guy I had met a couple times named Moises sat on a couch, which had been placed on the lawn for some reason.
“We’re done with another school year,” Eddie said. “Two down, two to go.”
“I know,” I replied. “I think I did pretty well on finals. How were yours?”
“It was a lot of work, but I passed.”
“Dude, mine were really tough,” Lars said.
“What are you doing this summer?” Xander asked me.
“I’m staying here. I have one class first session. When do you leave for India?”
“Two weeks. I’m a little nervous, but mostly excited! God is going to move!”
“I can’t wait to hear about it,” I said.
“Greg?” Eddie asked. “Have you decided yet if you’re going to Urbana?”
I had not decided, and now that Eddie was asking, I felt like I had dropped the ball. Intervarsity, the parent organization of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, puts on a convention every three years, in Urbana, Illinois, for young adults to learn about missions and service opportunities around the world. The convention was the last week of the year, after Christmas. “I haven’t decided,” I said. “But I’d like to if I can make it work. I don’t know if I’m ready to go on a mission trip myself, but now that I have a lot of friends doing stuff like that, I think it would help me understand what they’re doing. Xander’s trip to India, and Melinda’s trip to Russia, and Taylor and Pete and Charlie going to Morocco with Jeromeville Covenant Church.”
“Then what are you still thinking about? If it’s money, you can apply for a scholarship through JCF. Talk to Dave and Janet.”
“It’s more just the fact that it’s overwhelming. I don’t know how to book a flight or a hotel room or anything like that. And it is a lot of money, too.”
“I know a lot of people have been wanting to travel in groups and share hotel rooms,” Eddie said. “If I hear of someone who might be able to include you, I’ll have them contact you.”
“Thanks. That would be awesome.”
“Heads up!” shouted Alex McCann, a housemate of some of the guys on the couch, as a Frisbee sailed toward us. Lars stood up and caught the Frisbee in time; then, walking away from the couch, he shouted at Alex and threw the Frisbee back at him. Eddie and Xander stood up, and Eddie said to me, “We’re gonna go throw the Frisbee. Wanna come?”
“I might later,” I said. “Thanks.”
Moises stayed on the couch with me. “I think you should go to Urbana,” he said. “God is going to do great things through you.”
“Thanks,” I said, curious how he knew about God’s plan for my life when I pretty much just knew this guy to say hi to.
“Have you ever taken a spiritual gift assessment?” Moises asked.
“I don’t think so.”
“They handed one out at my church a few weeks ago. You answer questions about what skills you have and what you’re good at, and it tells you, like, if God has equipped you to preach or worship or pray or do administrative work. You can ask your pastor if he has one. What church do you go to?”
“It’s the student-led Catholic church.”
“My family is Catholic,” Moises said. “My family came here from Mexico; everyone is Catholic there. But then when I became a Christian, I realized just how much Catholics have wrong. Like, Jesus died on the cross for your sins already. You don’t have to confess to a pope.” I just nodded, not wanting to argue. Moises‘ knowledge of the inner workings of the Catohlic Church must have had some shortcomings if he believed that the average Catholic confessed to His Holiness Pope John Paul II on a regular basis. Also, although I did not think about it at age 19, I have also come to learn over the years that being a busybody like Moises is not the best way to share one’s faith with others. After studying the Bible more this year, though, I had come to agree with his point that salvation came from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, not through following the rituals of Catholicism alone.
By this time, it was getting dark, so I went back inside, making more small talk and helping myself to snacks on the kitchen counter. Later that night, in the living room, Eddie, Kristina, Brian, and a few others were doing some kind of silly dance. I saw Tabitha, one of the first people I knew from JCF because she was in the dorm next to mine last year, sitting on the couch with an empty seat next to her. “May I sit here?” I asked Tabitha.
“Sure,” she said. “Actually, I was looking for you. Eddie told me a few minutes ago that if you go to Urbana, you’d be interested in going in together with someone on a flight and hotel room.”
“I was going to put something together later this summer. I’ll keep you posted.”
“I’m not going for sure yet, but I know the price goes up July 1, so I want to decide for sure by then. I’ll let you know, and you keep me posted on your plans.”
“Great! Sounds good!”
I stayed at the party until after midnight. By then, much of the crowd had gone home, the music had stopped, and I was getting tired. I said my final goodnights and congratulations to Brian and Shawn, as well as to their other graduating housemates, Mike Kozlovsky and Dan Conway. These four and all the other seniors here tonight were done with college, at least done with their bachelor’s degrees. And now I was halfway there, if I finished on schedule. It was hard to believe that it had already been almost two years since Mom and Dad helped me unpack in my tiny dorm room in Building C.
As I drove home through the dark but warm Jeromeville night, I kept thinking about how my life had changed so much, not only in the time since I came to Jeromeville, but just in this school year. I had a great time at this party, and unlike my few other experiences with college parties, people here were not getting drunk. At the beginning of this school year, I did not even know that any of these people existed, except for Tabitha, and she was not in my close circle of friends yet at the time. So much had changed for the better.
I lived alone in a small studio apartment this year because I was unable to find roommates among people I knew. Early in the year, I worried that living alone would be excessively boring and lonely, but indirectly, living alone ended up being the best thing for me. It prompted me to make more of an effort to stay connected with my friends from freshman year, which led to me finally accepting Liz Williams’ invitation to come to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship. At JCF, I made so many new friends, including the people at this party, and my future roommates for junior year. And, more importantly, I learned what it really meant to follow Jesus, and how only his death on the cross brought eternal life, and hope, and inner peace.
I went straight to bed when I got home; I was tired. I would have time to pack a suitcase in the morning, and after church I would make the two and a half hour drive to my parents’ house in Plumdale. But unlike a year ago, the drive to my parents’ house would not mean the start of three months away from my friends. I was only staying there for a week this time, and I would go for another week in August after my summer class ended. For the rest of the summer, I would be here in Jeromeville. Plumdale was home, but Jeromeville was also home now.
As I drifted off to sleep, still thinking about how much life had changed during my sophomore year at UJ, I wondered what changes were in store for me in the next school year. Maybe I would find other new things to get involved with, as I had gotten involved with JCF this year. Maybe I would end up going to that Urbana convention and deciding to become a missionary. The possibilities were endless. At the time, I had no idea that the next school year would bring challenges to my faith and questions about my future. I would have to make difficult decisions. I would find myself getting involved in two new activities, one of which was not at all anything I expected to do until it happened, and the other of which I was only beginning to think about at that point. But I knew that, no matter what, with God on my side everything would work out just fine.