April 3-5, 1996. I look like a deranged serial killer.

Back in 1996, only rich people had mobile phones, because they were large and expensive.  If I wanted to call someone in another city, I had to make a long distance call from my landline telephone, and I would get billed for the call by the minute.  The University of Jeromeville got some kind of deal with MCI, a major company in the telephone industry at the time until they were acquired by Verizon in the early 2000s.  MCI provided new state-of-the-art student identification cards to all of us students, and in exchange, we got to use MCI to make long distance calls at a slightly discounted rate.  I had no plans to use this service; I already had long distance service on my phone with another company, and I did not make long distance calls very often except to my parents.  But because we were getting new ID cards, all students had to get our pictures taken again at some point during the first week of spring quarter.

“You said it looked bad!” Danielle was saying as I walked into the Newman Center chapel Wednesday night for choir practice.  I looked up to see what was going on; Danielle was holding one of the new student ID cards.  “I think this is a good picture.”

“No I don’t!” Danielle’s sister Carly exclaimed, trying to take the card away as Danielle held it away from her.

“Greg!” Danielle called out as I approached the others.  “Isn’t this a good picture of Carly?” Danielle asked as she tossed Carly’s ID card to me.

I caught the card and looked at it as Carly said, “Eww! Give it back!”  In the picture, Carly was smiling, and her straight brown hair looked neatly groomed.

“Here,” I said, handing the card back to Carly.  “I think you look just fine.”

“I should have taken my glasses off,” Carly said.  “But, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”  I smiled.

“Can I see your new picture?” Danielle asked me.  “Did you get it yet?”

“I didn’t.  I’m probably going to go tomorrow.”

Phil Gallo turned toward us.  “I heard that people are upset because apparently MCI has all of our personal information now.”

“Hmm,” I replied.  That sounded a bit unsettling, but there was not much I could do about it at this point, except possibly boycott MCI and not use their service.

“How’d your week go, Greg?  What classes are you taking this quarter?” Danielle asked.

“Two math classes, Computer Science 30, and Anthro 2.”

“Is that the same Anthro class that Claire’s taking?”

“Yes.  I saw her in class today.”

“What?” Claire said, turning toward us. “I heard my name.”  Claire Seaver was a junior with a background in music, and although there was no formal leadership structure in our church choir, she performed many leader-like activities for the group.

“You’re in my Anthro 2 class,” I said.

“Yeah!  And we have to miss it on Friday because we’re singing here for the Good Friday Mass.”

“I know.  I hope we don’t miss too much.”

“Do either of you guys know someone who you can ask to take notes?” Danielle asked.

“Yes,” I replied.  “Tabitha Sasaki is in that class too; I already asked her today if I could copy her notes for Friday.  I’ll ask her if I can make an extra copy for Claire.  Danielle, do you know Tabitha?  She goes to JCF, and she lived in Building B last year?”

“Oh yeah.  I remember her.”

“Okay, everyone, we need to get started,” Claire called out.  “We have a lot of new music to practice this week, because we have Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.”

Choir practice that week took much longer than usual, over two hours.  We had more music to practice for the upcoming Holy Week services, as well as songs specific to Easter Sunday.  By the time I got home, it was nine-thirty, and I was too tired to do any more homework.

Fortunately, the next day was Thursday, my lightest day of the week that quarter.  I was done with lower division mathematics, so for this quarter I signed up for Combinatorics and Linear Algebra Applications, two upper-division classes for which I had taken the prerequisites.  The mathematics major also required one of two possible lower division computer science courses, and being one who liked to play around with computers, I was excited for that class, Introduction to Programming.  I completed my academic schedule with Introduction to Cultural Anthropology.  This would satisfy a general education requirement, and I already knew the professor, Dr. Dick Small.  He taught a class I took last year for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program that I was in, about the literature and culture of South Africa. I always thought that Dr. Dick Small was one of the most hilariously unfortunate names that one could possibly have.

When I was signing up for classes this quarter, I noticed that all four classes that I took were only offered Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  And, without realizing it, I noticed after the fact that I had left my Tuesdays and Thursdays completely empty, having chosen an anthro discussion on Wednesday and a computer science discussion on Monday.  Since I had also decided to take the quarter off from my part-time job tutoring at the Learning Skills Center, I had no reason to get out of bed on a Tuesday until Bible study in the evening, and no reason to get out of bed on a Thursday at all.  Some of my friends had told me that they would be perfectly happy with a schedule like that, but I did not think it would be good to be that lazy and antisocial.  The UJ physical education department offered a number of half-unit classes twice a week, and I decided to take weight training this quarter just to give me something healthy to do on these days.  I had taken bowling in the fall, for a similar reason.

The sky was mostly blue with a few clouds that Thursday morning, so I rode my bike to campus instead of taking the bus.  I parked outside of the Recreation Pavilion, where the weight room was.  Those first few classes the first couple weeks of the quarter, we learned a little bit about technique, and the rest of the hour we just lifted weights.  After class, I changed into normal clothes.  I also put on the jacket I had bought a couple months ago when a theft in the laundry room had forced me to buy new clothes; I had worn the jacket on my bike but taken it off for weight training.  This jacket had a black torso made from the same material as athletic wear and lined with something warm, but the sleeves were gray, made out of the same material as sweatshirts.  The jacket also had a dark green hood, but I did not put the hood on that morning.

I got back on my bike and decided to try something new today.  I rode east across campus, past the Memorial Union and the Death Star building, on the path that became Third Street.  I crossed A Street, which marked the border between the university and the city, and parked my bike about a hundred feet past A Street.  Next to this bike rack was a coffee shop called Espresso Roma.  I walked in and continued to the counter, where one person was in line in front of me.

I did not drink coffee, but at that time I had a bit of a curious fascination with coffee shops.  It seemed like hanging out in coffee shops was the cool thing to do, and I wished I could experience that, despite the fact that I did not like coffee.  The Coffee House on campus at the Memorial Union was more like a student union than an actual coffee shop.  I had seen Espresso Roma before, to my knowledge it was the closest coffee shop to campus, so I figured I would give it a try.

“May I help you?” the cashier asked.

“Hot chocolate, please,” I said.

“Whipped cream?”

“Yes.”  The hot chocolate at the Coffee House on campus did not come with whipped cream, so this place was better in that sense.  I found a table and took off my jacket, placing it on the back of the chair.  I got out my backpack and combinatorics textbook, and looked around.  Last week, I was back home in Santa Lucia County on spring break, and I went to a coffee shop in Gabilan called the Red Bean with my friend Melissa.  Espresso Roma did not look much like the Red Bean.  Although in an old neighborhood like the Red Bean, Espresso Roma was in a much more modern-looking building.  The interior had a concrete floor with electrical conduits and air ducts visible in the ceiling above.  Floor-to-ceiling windows, with wood borders around the glass making them look more like doors, faced Third Street; one of them actually was a door, leading to outdoor tables.

I got my hot chocolate a couple minutes later and sat back down.  I had plenty more to do after I finished my combinatorics homework, since I got nothing done after choir practice last night.  I spent almost two hours in Espresso Roma reading and studying and doing homework.  I went back there several more times over the next couple years for hot chocolate and a different place to study other than the Coffee House in the Memorial Union and the library.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays that quarter, my only class was the weight training class.  I could go back home any time I wanted. But today, I had one more important thing to do before I left campus: I had not yet taken my photo for the new student ID card.  The photographers had set up in the Recreation Pavilion on the basketball court; I had seen them on the way to weight class this morning.  When I unlocked my bike, I noticed that the sky had turned gray; it had mostly been blue when I arrived at Espresso Roma two hours ago.  I felt what seemed to be raindrops on my head; that was not a good sign.  By the time I rode past the Death Star building a minute later, the rain had become much more steady.  I pulled my hood on, hoping that wearing my hood would not make my hair look funny for my picture.

It only took five minutes to get to the Recreation Pavilion by bicycle, but in that five minutes the rain quickly became a heavy downpour.  By the time I walked into the building, I was drenched.  My jacket had kept my torso sufficiently dry, but the sleeves, not being waterproof, had soaked through to the long sleeves I was wearing underneath

“Your old card, please?” a woman asked as I walked inside.  I handed over my old card, and the woman who took my card pointed at a line for me to stand in.  I could have come back tomorrow when it might be dry, but by giving her my old card, I had made my decision.  I would be looking a little bit wet in my new student ID photo.  It was no big deal.

A few minutes later, I set my jacket and backpack down when I got to the front of the line to get my picture taken.  “Looks like you got a little wet today,” the photographer asked.  “Is it raining?”

No, I thought, I was wading in the creek and I dropped something, so I had to reach in with both arms and get it.  But somehow my torso stayed miraculously dry.  “Yeah,” I said out loud.  “It just started coming down hard all of a sudden while I was on my way here.”

“You sure you want to take your picture like that?” he asked.

“It’s ok.  It won’t really show.”

I stood and looked where he told me to.  In every ID card and school picture I had taken, I always tried my best to smile, and I hated the way I looked in every one of these pictures.  So I deliberately did not smile.  I kept my face in as much as a natural position as possible, and not smiling was natural for me.  I stared at the spot that the photographer had told me to until I heard the click and saw the flash.  “Thank you,” the photographer said.  “Go over there, and they’ll have your card ready in about ten minutes.”

A while later, I heard someone call my name from the table with the card printer on it.  A guy sitting there handed me my new card, along with a sticker to put on it to show that I was registered as a student this quarter. Whatever look I was going for, being wet and disheveled and not smiling, it did not work at all.  My face appeared angry and unstable, my hair was messy, and my wet arms were visible on the sides of the picture.  Smiling for school pictures did not work, and apparently not smiling did not work either.  The photos on ID cards just did not look good, and this was something I would have to come to accept.  And as if to drive home the point that I was just cursed with bad luck when it came to ID card photos, the weather was dry by the time I left the Recreation Pavilion, and it stayed dry for the rest of the night.


(Author’s note: This is a reconstruction, made with the help of Bitmoji. I still have the original card, but the photo is smeared and scratched after having been put in and taken out of my pocket for years, and the original card has personal information on it that I do not wish to copy here.)

The rest of the week went as planned.  I sang at both the Holy Thursday and Good Friday Masses.  Friday night I went to Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, hoping that Tabitha would be there and that she had remembered to bring her notes from anthropology class.  I noticed a few of the regulars were missing, probably because it was the weekend of Easter and some people had gone home to be with their families for the weekend.  Tabitha was there, and after the last worship song, I walked over toward her.  She was talking with Eddie, Haley, Kristina, and a guy whom I had seen around but had not met yet.  I walked up, not saying anything, not wanting to interrupt.

Eddie acknowledged me first.  “Hey, Greg,” he said.  “Did you get your new student ID yet?  We were just talking about that.”

I pulled my new ID card out of my pocket.  “I look like a deranged serial killer,” I said sheepishly as I handed Eddie the card.

“Why is there a shadow on your arms?” he asked.

“My arms were wet,” I said, explaining the sudden downpour and my jacket.

“I want to see the deranged serial killer!” Kristina shouted.

“Is it ok to show the others?” Eddie asked me.

“Sure,” I replied.  Eddie passed the card to Kristina; Haley and Tabitha also looked at the card.

“You’re not smiling,” Haley pointed out.  “How come?”

“I smiled for my driver’s license, and all my high school yearbook pictures, and my old student ID, and I never liked the way those looked,” I explained.  “So I tried something different.  That didn’t work either, apparently.”

“It’s not bad.  But I think you would look better if you smiled.”

“Thanks,” I said, making my best attempt at a smile.  Then, turning to Tabitha, I asked, “Tabitha?  Do you have your notes from anthro today?”

“Yeah,” she said, reaching down under her chair and picking up a notebook, which she handed to me.  “I think I got all the important things Dr. Small said.”

“Can I give this back to you Monday in class?  Or do you need it sooner?”

“Monday is fine.”

“Greg,” Eddie said.  “I was going to ask you tonight.  Are you busy next weekend?”

“I don’t think so.  Why?”

“We’re planning a sophomore class trip.  We’re going to go to Bay City on Friday night, eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, then find a place to sleep on the beach.  We’ll be home Saturday night so everyone can go to church Sunday.”

This invitation came as a surprise to me, I had never done anything like this, but I was intrigued.  “Who all is going?” I asked.

“All of us,” Eddie said, gesturing at himself and the others I had been talking to.  “I’m going to invite a few more people, but I don’t know yet who is going for sure.”

This was not my usual reality.  I had never been to a Hard Rock Cafe, I had never slept outdoors, and taking a trip like this was not something I normally would do on short notice.  But I learned the hard way recently that hesitating on a big decision had consequences.  Also, this trip would be a chance to spend time with friends; my 19-year-old boy mind was specifically excited about the thought of spending time with Haley.  “Sure, I’m in,” I replied.  “I should bring a sleeping bag?”

“Yeah.  I’ll call you in a few days with more details.”

“Sounds good!  May I have my ID card back?”

“Oh yeah,” Kristina said, handing me the card.

I really was okay with the fact that I was stuck with this horrible picture on my ID card for the next few years.  Everyone seemed to have a bad student ID or driver’s license picture at some point in their lives, and now I had one with a good story behind it.  I had learned two important lessons that day.  First, my jacket was not completely waterproof, and second, I may as well smile in pictures because I did not look better not smiling.  Smiling still did not feel natural to me, but maybe I could just make myself think happy thoughts when I was posing for a picture.  And now Eddie had included me in this upcoming trip, and Haley was going to be on the trip too, and all of that certainly gave me a reason to smile.

November 9, 1994. The Freshman Stripe.

So far, for the six and a half weeks I had been in Jeromeville, the weather had been perfect.  Summer in Jeromeville is hot and dry; I remember that from that one summer day last year when I was with my family, and we visited the campus.  Also, I had been to Bidwell during the summer to see Dad’s relatives there, and I knew that the weather in Jeromeville was similar to the weather in Bidwell.  By the time I arrived in Jeromeville, in late September, the warm days had cooled off a little; it was still shorts weather, but the heat was not quite as intense.  Also, evenings were cool, a nice break from the heat of the day.

All of that changed suddenly this week.  Monday night, the weather became cloudy and windy, and by the time I woke up today, Wednesday morning, it was cool and windy and steadily raining.  I went to breakfast and read the newspaper after I got back to my room. The weather was terrible, but I was in a good mood, because yesterday was Election Day, I was old enough to vote for the first time, and my candidate for governor won.  This also meant I would stop hearing all of the annoying political ads.

I got on my bike and headed toward my math class in Wellington Hall, next to the Quad.  I didn’t have a jacket, and now that I think about it, I really don’t know why. For some reason, I did not own a jacket in the fall of 1994.  I guess I just never really thought about it. I didn’t go outside in the rain very often. So now, here I was, riding my bike across campus, in the rain, wearing a light gray hoodie that said UNIVERSITY OF JEROMEVILLE COLTS in navy blue, and a t-shirt underneath, and jeans.

I locked my bike outside of Wellington Hall and saw a group of frat boy types walking toward the door from the other direction.  I entered the building first, with the frat boys behind me. As I walked down the hall toward the room where my math class was, I thought I heard them laughing, and I thought one of them mockingly said, “Nice stripe.”  Their tone brought back flashbacks of elementary school, when the other kids in class were so cruel to me. I didn’t know what “nice stripe” meant, though, so maybe they weren’t talking to me.

I walked into my classroom and took off my backpack.  A guy named Jack Chalmers sat behind me; in addition to math class, I had also seen him at the dining hall.  I think he lived in Building F. I wasn’t sure where he was from, exactly, but I got the impression he was a beach bum or a surfer dude.  He wore shorts and sandals even today when it was raining. Another thing I always remember about Jack is that he talked unusually fast.

“Greg,” Jack said quietly.  “You got a stripe on your back.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but I felt blood rushing to my face in a mixture of anger and embarrassment as I realized that the frat boys in the hallway had been making fun of me after all.  “What?” I replied.

“You were riding your bike in the rain,” Jack explained.  “Water on the road splashed and made a stripe down your back.”  I took off my sweatshirt; sure enough, the stripe was there. I was cold, but I didn’t put the sweatshirt back on.  Too embarrassing at this point. “You should put fenders on your bike next time,” Jack said. I was about to ask him more about this when Jimmy Best, the instructor, walked in and started teaching.  I quietly started taking notes.

I was a lot quieter than usual in class that day, and I spent the whole fifty minutes trying to concentrate on math, but being less successful than usual because of my dirty sweatshirt.  When class was dismissed, I waited until most of the class had left before I got up; I didn’t want to take the chance that someone else would see my dirty sweatshirt. Rebekah from upstairs and Andrea from Building B were both in this class, and I especially didn’t want them to see me like that.

Even though I was cold, I left my sweatshirt off as I walked upstairs to the classroom for Rise and Fall of Empires.  I had that class back to back with math, and it was in the same building, so I got there before most of the rest of the class.  I had plenty of time to hide my sweatshirt in a way to make the stripe inconspicuous.

By the time class got out, I had forgotten about the events of two hours earlier.  But when I put on my sweatshirt, Mike was behind me, looking at me, and said in his naturally loud voice, “Greg has a Freshman Stripe!”

“Yeah,” I said bitterly, sitting back down and staring off into space.  “I know.”

Taylor noticed what was going on and walked over.  “Greg? You all right, man?”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry,” Mike said.  “I didn’t mean it. Just get some fenders for your bike.  Then the dirt won’t go flying up.”

“But how does everyone know about this but me?” I asked.

“I heard about it from my friend who’s a sophomore,” Mike answered.

“I got some fenders a few days ago from the Bike Barn,” Taylor said.  “They weren’t very expensive.”

“I guess I’m going to have to do that, then.”

I put the dirty sweatshirt back on and got on my bike.  There was no point in not wearing it at this point. I headed back home, the way I came, but I stopped at the intersection of Colt Avenue and Davis Drive.  A cluster of buildings that had once been actual barns and silos had been repurposed; the area included a student union with tables and meeting places, a few fast-food express restaurants, and the Bike Barn.  This was a full-service bicycle sales and repair shop, run by the Associated Students of the University of Jeromeville, the same organization that has the student President and Senate and runs a number of other student groups and business-like establishments on campus.

I looked around, trying to find fenders.  I turned my back to the cashier for a minute, and he said, “Looking for fenders?  Your back looks like it got splashed.”

“Yeah,” I said.  He pointed out where the fenders were displayed and even offered to lend me a screwdriver to install them.  I paid for them, brought my bike inside, screwed the fenders on, returned his screwdriver, and rode back to Building C.

I had one more class in the afternoon; by then it had stopped raining, so I didn’t wear the dirty sweatshirt, even though the air was still cold enough to make short sleeves uncomfortable.  Later that afternoon, I went to the laundry room on the first floor and did a load of laundry, including the dirty sweatshirt. My laundry was still drying at dinner time, so when I went to the dining hall, I was still wearing just one layer of short sleeves.

I looked around to see if anyone I knew was eating.  I saw Amy, the RA from the third floor, sitting next to three people I did not know: a guy with facial hair, who appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent; a tall, thin Asian guy; and a girl of fair complexion with shoulder-length dark blonde hair.  “May I sit here?” I asked, approaching them.

“Sure!” Amy said.  “Do you know any of these people?”

“No.”

Amy gestured to them from left to right.  “This is Ali, Victor, and Megan. They’re RAs in Building E, G, and K.  Is that right?” The three of them nodded and murmured assents. “And this is Greg,” Amy continued.  “He’s in my building.”

“Hi,” I said to all three of them collectively.

“Aren’t you cold?” Amy asked me.  “You’re just wearing a shirt in this weather.”

“Yeah,” I said, “but my sweatshirt is dirty.  I have laundry going right now. Apparently your back gets dirty when you ride your bike in the rain.”

“Oh, yes,” Victor said.  “The Freshman Stripe.”

I looked down at my plate, the humiliation returning to my face.

“It’s okay,” Megan said reassuringly.  “We all went through it as freshmen too.  Some things you just don’t think of until they happen to you.”

“I guess.  I got fenders from the Bike Barn on the way home.”

“Good!  See, you’re learning.”

“You’re right.”

“And I’ll give you another pointer,” Megan continued.  “Slow down. A lot more bike accidents happen when it’s wet.  I know from experience.”

“Thanks for the tip.“  I smiled at Megan, and she smiled back.

After I was done eating dinner with the other RAs, I walked back to my room; it was dark outside now.  I took my laundry, now clean and dry, back upstairs. The dirt had all gotten out of my sweatshirt, so I put it on; it was nice and warm.  I sat on the edge of the bed, thinking, putting off my math homework, as I heard the rain start again. Today was a little embarrassing. I’m learning new things, and sometimes you have to learn the hard way.  The frat boys walking behind me in Wellington tried to put me down in order to make themselves feel better. Screw them. I don’t need people like that in my life. There are plenty of more helpful older students, like the cashier from the Bike Barn, and Megan, the RA from Building K.  I’m learning and growing. And someday, hopefully, I will be that helpful older students, passing on pointers of value to freshmen.

But first, I needed to get a jacket and an umbrella.