November 5, 1996. My first time voting for President.

For the last several months, as is always the case in years that are multiples of four, much of the news media here in the United States had been dominated by the upcoming Presidential election.  This was the first year that I was old enough to vote for President, and I had been waiting for this moment for the last four years, so I could vote for whomever ran against President Bill Clinton.

This was not the first time I had voted.  I turned eighteen a couple months before the 1994 midterm elections, when federal and state representatives were up for elections, as well as some senators and the governor of my state.  The governor I voted for that year won; the election was projected to be close, but it ended up considerably more decisive.

I had never really thought about my political views until I was in high school, when I discovered that I leaned mostly conservative.  I believed that, in most cases, people should work and were not entitled to free stuff from the government.  I believed that lower taxes spurred economic growth by providing incentives for investment and the creation of jobs.  And I believed that abortion was a barbaric practice that took an innocent human life, a belief stemming not only from my Catholic background and my newfound evangelical Christian faith, but also from the fact that I was not having sex with anyone, so I was not getting anyone pregnant, and I believed that this method of birth control needed to be used more often and not ridiculed.  Or maybe I was just jealous of people who actually were having sex.  But, regardless, President Bill Clinton stood against all of those positions, not to mention he was a womanizer and involved in some very shady business dealings before he became President.

Political commentator Rush Limbaugh reached the peak of his popularity when I was in high school.  On mornings when school was out during my junior and senior years, I listened to parts of his three-hour radio show while I sat in my room playing Mario and Zelda games.  Limbaugh wrote two books outlining his views in light of the present political climate, which I had read multiple times.  He also, for a few years, starred in a half-hour television show, recounting some of the points he made in his radio show in front of a studio audience.   The establishment hated Limbaugh, but with so many liberal-leaning teachers at school, it felt good to hear someone saying things I mostly agreed with.

When I arrived at the University of Jeromeville, I made a conscious choice to stop listening to Rush Limbaugh’s show and not get involved in any political groups.  I wanted to think for myself and not have some other entity making those decisions for me.  Had I done more research on what Jeromeville was like before moving there, I probably would have gone somewhere else.  Like many university towns, Jeromeville was quirky, a bit on the snooty side, and overall much more liberal than me.  The Jeromeville City Council was known for making some unusual far-left decisions, grounded in a combination of aging hippie idealism, environmentalism, and opposition to anything that would make Jeromeville outgrow its small-town roots, despite the fact that over fifty thousand people already lived in Jeromeville.  It was hardly a small town anymore.  The proposals from this year’s candidates included closing all of downtown to automobile traffic except for people who lived downtown; making curves in long straight roads, to discourage people from driving; and banning street lights on certain quiet, dark residential streets, because bright streets encourage growth, which encourages crime.  I was not sure what reality these people lived in; where I came from, dark streets encourage crime.

But the longer I was in Jeromeville, the more it was growing on me, mostly because of the new friends I made through connections like Jeromeville Christian Fellowship that were not directly political.  I hoped that my Christian friends would have views similar to mine, but I also shied away from talking about politics, because I did not want to be disappointed in my new friends if they supported something I opposed, or vice versa.

President Clinton’s opponent in the 1996 election was Bob Dole, a longtime Senator from Kansas who had served in World War II as a young man.  Jack Kemp, a former congressman and cabinet secretary who also once played professional football, was Dole’s running mate for Vice President.   At age seventy-three, Dole would become the oldest President to begin his term if he won the election.  The media often used Dole’s age to draw a sharp contrast between him and Clinton.  Four years ago, Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, both in their forties at the time, had the youngest combined ages of any President and Vice President at the beginning of their terms.  I had recently seen a Bob Dole campaign sign that had been defaced to say Bob Old.  Despite the fact that I most likely disagreed with the person who made that sign, I had to admire the creativity.  I had done the same kind of thing two years ago with a campaign sticker for a gubernatorial candidate I did not vote for

I walked across the Quad on the way to class the morning of the election.  A group handing out Dole-Kemp bumper stickers and buttons had a table on the Quad that day.  I did a double take to make sure they were real.  The other day I excited to see what I thought was a kindred spirit walking across the Quad in a Dole-Kemp T-shirt, but just as I was about to compliment his shirt, I noticed that it was actually a parody, written in the same font as the Dole-Kemp campaign stickers, but it actually said “Dope-Hemp.”  Yeah, I did not want to compliment him and get mistaken for a stoner.

I walked up to the table and pointed to the very real Dole-Kemp stickers.  “Can I have one?” I asked.

“Sure,” the guy behind the table said.  “Take a few.  Put them up.  We need everyone to vote today.”

“I will be,” I said.  “First time I’m old enough to vote for President.”

“Nice!  We’re glad to have your vote.”

I took three stickers and walked across the Quad toward Wellington Hall.  I noticed a garbage can with a Clinton-Gore sticker on the side; I walked up to the garbage can, quickly covered the sticker with one of my Dole-Kemp stickers, and continued walking.  I overheard someone say, “Did he just cover up that sticker?”  Yes, I did, I thought, not replying or acknowledging the other person’s existence.  Inside Wellington, on the way to class, I put a second sticker on a bulletin board, on top of a flyer advertising an event that had already happened last weekend.  I saved the third sticker, to remember this election, the first Presidential election I voted in, a memory of the time that I, along with millions of other people, voted Bill Clinton out of office.




I stayed on campus until five o’clock that night, because I had tutoring groups to lead.  Tuesday was a light day of classes, so I had scheduled many of my work hours that quarter on Tuesdays.  After my last tutoring group, I caught a bus home, finally arriving around 5:30 in the rapidly darkening twilight.

“Hey,” Shawn said as I walked in the door.  He was in the kitchen, loading the dishwasher.  “How’s it goin’?”

“Good,” I said.  I went upstairs and put my backpack away, then checked my email.  I had nothing too exciting; something from Mom, and from an Internet friend I had been talking to.  After about ten minutes, I went downstairs; Shawn had moved to the couch.  I went to the kitchen and began boiling water to make spaghetti.

After I finished eating, around 6:30, I walked out of the apartment to find my neighborhood polling place.  Every voter got a sample ballot in the mail; printed on this booklet, next to my name and mailing address, was the location of my polling place, specific to my neighborhood.  Polls stayed open until eight o’clock here, so I had plenty of time to vote.  The polling place was easy to find; it was the lobby of my apartment complex.  Outside, temporary signs saying “VOTE HERE” and warning people not to distribute campaign material within 100 feet had appeared today.  A line of people extended out the door; I could not tell how far the line extended inside.

The line moved relatively quickly; it took a little over five minutes for me to get to the front of the line.  I handed my sample ballot to the volunteer sitting at the table, who checked my name and address against the list of voters who would be voting here.  “Sign here,” she said, handing me a clipboard and pointing to a line next to my name.  About twenty names were on that page, alphabetical by last name.  I scanned the list out of curiosity, which was probably some kind of violation of privacy rights; I did not see any familiar names, but I did notice only one other person registered with the same political party as me.  Typical for Jeromeville.

“Here you go,” the volunteer said, handing me a ballot and directing me to an empty booth.  The voting booth felt flimsy, made of metal poles holding a plastic table with curtains around it so that others could not see my vote.  I had my sample ballot marked already, so I just had to carefully mark the actual ballot the same way.  This only took about two minutes.

This was a long ballot, with many other elections on it besides the President of the United States.  I also voted for a member of the United States House of Representatives, state legislators, city council members, a county supervisor, and a number of ballot initiatives.  My state allowed ballot initiatives to be proposed either by the Legislature or by citizens signing petitions.  In each case, the proposal was brought to the people for a direct vote, bypassing the usual legislative process.  This process had grown to become a complete mess by the 1990s, with dozens of initiatives to vote on each year, many of them poorly written laws with unintended consequences.

A long list of twelve people were running for three open seats on the Jeromeville City Council.  I had looked carefully over the campaign materials and chosen three candidates who seemed the most normal and least objectionable of the twelve.  I filled in their bubbles, hoping that they would bring some sense to this quirky city.

Two initiatives this year were getting a large amount of attention.  One of them, Initiative 119, would eliminate affirmative action in government employment and public education, prohibiting positions to be granted based on race and sex.  I believed in treating people equally; applicants to a university, or for a job, should be considered based on their merit and qualifications, not on characteristics like race and sex.  It blew my mind that so many considered those of us who wanted to treat everyone equally as the real racists and sexists.  Treating people equally is the opposite of racism and sexism.  Recently, I walked past a bit of graffiti on campus that read “INITIATIVE 119 = GENOCIDE.”  The artist probably thought that this message was helpful to persons of color, but to me it just seemed sad to see persons of color as so lowly that taking away special treatment for them would result in their extinction.  I voted yes on Initiative 119.

The other initiative in the news that year, Initiative 124, proposed to legalize marijuana for medicinal use.  Federal law in the United States still prohibited marijuana use for any reason, so this law would conflict with federal law and probably just result in a long court battle.  I had been hearing decades of Just Say No messages in school and during commercials of children’s TV shows telling me why drugs were bad, and it seemed hypocritical to turn around and legalize marijuana, even if just for medicinal use.  I voted no on Initiative 124.

When I finished voting, I walked back to my apartment, confident that I had made a difference in the world.  No one liked President Clinton.  His party had suffered historic losses in the Senate and House of Representatives in the 1994 midterm elections, and he was on the way to becoming another mediocre one-term president.  And I was a part of history for voting for our next President, Bob Dole.

No one else was in the living room when I got home.  I turned on the television to hear official election results.  On the screen was a map of the fifty states, with some of them colored in, indicating that polls had already closed with enough votes counted to project a likely winner.  “As we see,” the announcer said, “President Clinton has won reelection.  Polls are still open in some states in the West, but returns in the rest of the country show that the President will win enough of the electoral vote.”

All that for nothing, I thought.  My vote did not end up counting after all.  Apparently enough people were convinced that Bill Clinton’s ideas for the country were actually good, somehow.  It was a pretty impressive turnaround for a President who had been so unpopular just a couple years ago, but my first vote for President still felt like a wasted opportunity.

As if reading my mind, the other reporter on the television said, “But if the polls are still open in your state, still, get out and vote.  There are lots of state and local races yet to be decided, as well as important ballot initiatives in some states.”  That reporter was correct.  Just because the election for President was not close and had already been decided, I voted for many other things that day.


Initiative 119 passed.  As I expected, the media and left-wing activists, of which there were many in a town like Jeromeville, howled about how racism was alive and well in the United States.  These people defined racism very differently from me.  Initiative 124 also passed; I found that surprising.  I spent so many years learning that drugs were bad, and here were the majority of voters in my state wanting more drugs.  Of course, they were not forcing their drugs on me; I could, and did, still choose to stay away from drugs.  I just did not like the message it sent.

The three candidates I voted for in the City Council election finished eighth, ninth, and eleventh.  I was not exactly surprised, but I was a bit disappointed to find out just how far out of step I was with other voters in Jeromeville.  This would become a recurring theme in local elections in Jeromeville for all the time I lived there.  But, as I said, there is more to life than politics, and despite having views out of touch with the City Council and many of the locals, Jeromeville was growing on me.

In the United States, voters do not vote directly for President.  Each state is assigned a certain number of electoral votes, based on the total number of Senators and Representatives from that state, and typically states assign their electoral votes to the candidate with the most votes in that state.  This system, and the formula for assigning the number of electoral votes to each state, grew out of one of the many compromises made between small and large states in the writing of the Constitution.  The original states of the United States had very different cultures and populations, and while the Constitution is not perfect, I believe it to be the best possible compromise to balance the needs of the different states that would be part of the new government.  This nation has been responsible for some horrible things in the past, but as times change, we can look to the ideals of our founding and apply them to new situations.

I have voted in every single election since that year that Bob Dole lost.  It is important to exercise one’s right to vote; but it is also important to learn about the issues, the candidate’s positions, and how government works in the first place.  I have seen too many incompetent candidates get elected, and poorly written ballot initiatives pass into law, because people will vote for anything that sounds good.  These days, both political parties seem to be running incompetent candidates from the extreme wings of their parties, resulting in extremely close elections and extremely controversial figures being elected to office.  For many, sadly, the kind of compromise that founded this nation, balancing the needs of multiple populations, is seen as a weakness.  I hope and pray that the United States can rediscover the ideals of our founding and find enough compromise and common ground to truly become united again.

April 4-6, 1995. Two big steps.

I walked back from the dining commons after dinner.  The sun was low, about to set, placing most of the South Residential Area in shadow from the surrounding trees and the buildings themselves.  The sky was clear and dimly blue, and despite the shadows around me, the fact that the sun had not set yet at seven o’clock felt like a bit of hope after this wet and cloudy winter.  A few more rain storms would probably show up before the end of the school year, but summer would return eventually.

When I got back to my room, the telephone was ringing.  I answered it.

“What happened?” Mom asked.  “The phone was ringing for a long time.”

“I just got back from dinner and checking the mail.”

“Did you get any mail?”

“No.  But I did get a postcard from Jessica in Guatemala yesterday.”

“That’s exciting.  How’s she doing down there?”

“It’s a postcard; she couldn’t write a whole lot.  She said she’s been volunteering at an orphanage.”

“I wonder what made her decide to do that instead of going to college?  She got accepted to Santa Teresa and Valle Luna, didn’t she?”

“I don’t know.  It’s her life. She can volunteer at an orphanage in Guatemala instead of going to college if she wants to.”

This postcard would actually be the last time I would hear from Jessica during my college days, although sometimes Mom and her gossipy friend Mary Bordeaux would have lunch, and Mom would tell me something Mary told her about Jessica.  I got back in touch with Jessica in 2000 after a chance encounter of sorts. Jessica and her husband and children live just outside of Gabilan now, not far from where we grew up, at least most of the time. Her adult life has been just as full of free-spirited adventures as her post-high school years were, though.  In 2006, they all returned to that same orphanage in Guatemala for several months and adopted a child from there to bring back to their home.

“I have some mail to send you,” Mom said.  “I’ll send that next week sometime. You got your sample ballot.”

“What sample ballot?”

“I don’t know,” Mom said, pausing, apparently to look at the sample ballot.  “It’s a primary election for county supervisors. And, um, Measure Q.”

“I have no idea about any of that.  I don’t feel comfortable voting.”

“You don’t have to vote.  It’s okay.”

“Yeah, but I hate the idea of not voting.  Maybe it’s time to change my voter registration from Santa Lucia County to Arroyo Verde County.  I know more about what’s going on up here. And I don’t like the Congressman from here. Back when I used to listen to Rush Limbaugh, he used to talk about him, so if I register to vote here, I can vote against that guy.”

“Where do you go to do that?  The post office, I think?”

“I don’t know either, but that sounds right.  I think I’ve seen voter registration forms at the post office.”

“Have you had a chance to look at any of those apartments yet?”

“I’m going to do that tomorrow.  I’m going to start with Las Casas and Pine Grove Apartments.  Those are the two top choices. I have a few other maybes in case they don’t have any left.”

“Sounds like a plan.  See, it’ll work out.”

“I don’t know yet, though.  I called both of them yesterday, and they had vacancies, but maybe they were all taken today.”

“Stop worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.”

“I’m trying.”

Mom continued talking for another several minutes, telling me about Mark’s baseball practice and someone at her work whom I didn’t know.  I was only half paying attention, with the rest of my mind on my upcoming apartment search. I was afraid of the unknown, that’s what it really came down to.  I had never experienced looking for an apartment before, and I didn’t want to go through an endless parade of setbacks.

My last class on Wednesday was Psychology and the Law, the class I was taking for the Interdisciplinary Honors Program this quarter.  As soon as class was over, I dropped off my backpack in my room and went to my car. I had some adult responsibilities to take care of.

I drove past Thong Bikini Hill, still closed for the season, and left campus heading north on Andrews Road.  I turned left on West Fifth and right on Maple Drive. This neighborhood north of the campus proper between Maple Drive and Highway 117 contained mostly apartment complexes built in the 1960s.  Some of them were privately owned, and some of them had been taken over by the university and operated as suite-style dorms. Two university dining commons were also in this quasi-off-campus housing area.

I parked on the street next to the Pine Grove Apartments, the largest of the privately owned apartment complexes in this neighborhood.  I followed a sign to the leasing office and walked in. A dark-haired woman of about thirty years old, wearing a name tag that said “Linda,” sat at a desk going through papers in a file.  Behind her, on a white wall, were framed photographs of the grounds of the apartment complex.

“May I help you?” Linda asked.

“I called yesterday asking about a one-bedroom apartment for the next school year.  Is it still available?”

“Yes, it is.  We have two left.  Would you like to look at one?”

“Yes, please,” I said.

“The unit I’m going to show you isn’t the actual apartment; neither of the available units is vacant right now.  I have permission from the resident to show the apartment, and both of the available units have the same floor plan.  I’ll show you the location of the two available units after I show you the inside.”

“Okay.”

I followed Linda to a one-bedroom apartment on the first floor near the rental office.  The front door opened into the small but adequate living room, with a kitchen to the left.  A short hallway led behind the kitchen to the bedroom and bathroom. The bedroom was about the size of my bedroom back home in Plumdale, a bit bigger than my dorm room.  Nothing really stood out; this is what I imagined apartment hunting to be like, so far. The apartment appeared to be inhabited by one resident who was much neater than I would have expected a college student to be.  This made sense, though, because the leasing office probably would not want to show prospective new residents an apartment full of party animals littered with beer cans and pizza boxes.

“Now, as I said, this is not the unit currently available,” Linda explained after she had shown me the inside of the apartment.  “Are you okay with living on the second floor and climbing stairs? Both available units are on the second floor.”

“Sure,” I said.

Linda and I walked out of the apartment and past the pool.  “You’re a student at UJ?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“And you’ll be living by yourself?”

“Yes.”

“I think you’ll like it here.  We’re close to campus. And many of our tenants stay here at Pine Grove until they graduate.  That’s one of the units available, number 217.” By now we had passed the pool and continued to the back side of a poolside building.  Linda pointed at apartment 217. Then she pointed to the next building past this one and said, “The other available unit is in that building.  Number 228.” We walked back toward the leasing office; Linda made note of the laundry room on the way. “The available units aren’t as close to the laundry room as the one I showed you, but no unit in Pine Grove is really far from the laundry room.”

“Yeah,” I agreed.

We walked back into the leasing office.  “So what do you think? Are you ready to sign the papers?”

I wasn’t.  I don’t like to make major decisions in a hurry.  I always second-guess myself. Even after committing to something, I often wonder if I made the wrong decision.  “I have one other place I’m looking at later. Can I let you know by tomorrow?”

“Sure, but we can’t hold the apartment for you.”

“I understand.”

“Just remember that we are the closest complex of this size to campus.  You won’t find all of these amenities anywhere closer.”

“That’s good to know.”

“Take this with you,” Linda said, pushing a brochure toward me with floor plans, a list of the amenities offered, and everything else I ever needed to know about Pine Grove Apartments.

“Thanks,” I said, looking through the brochure.

“Thank you for your interest in Pine Grove.  I’ll see you tomorrow, then?”

“I’ll let you know.”

I left Pine Grove Apartments feeling pretty good.  This was definitely doable. And I didn’t necessarily even need to wait until tomorrow; if I went to see Las Casas and hated it, I could always call Pine Grove back later this afternoon.  I hated making these decisions, though. Linda’s job was to sell the community to prospective tenants, and people working in sales always make things look better than they really are. Maybe everyone in Jeromeville knows that Pine Grove is the worst place in town to live, and I don’t know it because I never hear these things.  Or maybe they all say that about Las Casas. I don’t know.

I drove north on Maple Drive for about a mile.  Maple Drive was a much quieter street than Andrews Road. Both were residential streets running roughly parallel to each other, but Andrews Road was more heavily traveled.  As I approached the traffic light at Coventry Boulevard, I noticed the name of the street just before Coventry: Acacia Drive. Pete and Taylor and Charlie had signed a lease to live in an apartment on Acacia Drive, and I thought Danielle said she and one of her roommates from the four-person suite in Building C would be living in that same apartment complex on Acacia Drive as well.

On the other side of Coventry Boulevard, Maple Drive passed through a relatively new neighborhood with multiple large apartment complexes built in the 1980s.  A shopping center with a Safeway grocery store was on the left. I turned right on Alvarez Avenue almost as far as Andrews Road. The Las Casas Apartments were now on my left; I parked on the street and walked to the Las Casas leasing office.

I crossed a small parking lot and climbed three steps to a wood patio.  The patio extended all the way to the pool ahead of me, with the leasing office on the left.  I walked inside. On my right was a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the pool area, and I could see a gym behind the office.  An older woman with short hair sat behind the desk.

“Hi.  May I help you?”

“I called yesterday asking about a studio apartment for next school year.  Is that still available?”

“Just a regular studio, or the studio with the loft?”

I hadn’t thought about this.  The studio with the loft sounded more expensive.  “Just the regular one,” I said.

“We have one regular studio and two loft studios left for next year.  We have a loft studio available right now that I can show you, so you can see what it looks like.  The regular studio looks the same, except without the loft.”

“That sounds good.”

“I’m Ann, by the way.  What’s your name?”

“Greg.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ann said, shaking my hand.  I shook back. She gave me the brochure for the apartment complex and told me to look at it, which I did.

When I was done looking at the brochure, Ann asked if I was ready to see the apartment.  She led me around the pool to the left, and past the laundry room and mailboxes, which she pointed out.  We walked to the back of the complex, where a long straight building faced a parking lot. We climbed upstairs to apartment number 220.  Ann unlocked the door and let me in.

“So here we have the living area,” she said.  “It’s a studio apartment, so there isn’t a separate bedroom.”

“I know,” I replied.

“The bathroom is back there on the right, and the kitchen is back there on the left.”

The room was about the size of a large living room; it was plenty of room for me to fit a bed, a desk, a TV, a bookshelf, and a chair or two.  That was really all I needed living by myself. I walked back to the kitchen, which was small but big enough for me, and to the bathroom, which had a good size linen closet inside.  Next to the bathroom, against the wall to the right, a narrow set of stairs led upward, with a closet underneath the stairs.

“That’s the loft up there?” I asked.

“Yes,” Ann replied.  “Go on up.”

The apartment had a high vaulted ceiling sloping upward to the back of the apartment, which joined the back of another apartment on the other side of the building.  The only window was next to the front door, because that was the only wall facing outside. The ceiling was high enough that the loft felt like another small room on top of the kitchen and bathroom, and the loft had another small closet attached.  “Most of our tenants put their beds up here,” Ann explained.

“And the studio without the loft looks just like the downstairs part, without the loft?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“And how much is rent?”  I knew the rent on the regular studio was $475, but I wasn’t sure what the rent with the loft would be.

“The rent for this unit is $625,” Ann said.  “And the one without the loft, $475.”

There goes that idea, I thought.  I couldn’t afford a loft. I felt guilty enough about having my parents spend $475 on my rent every month.  The one-bedroom apartment at Pine Grove was $500 per month, which was my upper limit. It was bigger and much closer to campus, however, which made it reasonable that it would be more expensive.  But Pine Grove was also older, and I didn’t know anyone who would be living anywhere near Pine Grove.

Ann made small talk as we walked back to the leasing office, past a variety of trees and grassy areas between the buildings in the complex.  I had been planning on taking a night to sleep on the decision, but with only one $475 unit remaining, I might need to make a decision more quickly.

“Where is the available studio without the loft?” I asked as we walked back into the office.  “Which part of the complex?”

“I think it’s number 124.  Let me check.” Ann pulled a file out of a file cabinet and read through it.  “Yes, number 124. It’s downstairs and just a few apartments over from 220, where we just were.  Facing the back parking lot, just like the one we saw.”

I still felt bad about making my parents spend so much money on me just because I was late in finding a roommate and making plans for next year.  Las Casas, however, was less expensive than Pine Grove. It was farther from campus, but both neighborhoods were as was the case there were many student-oriented apartments in the neighborhood.  Las Casas was close to The Acacia Apartments, where Pete, Taylor, Charlie, and Danielle would be living, and also close to Hampton Place, where Liz, Caroline, Ramon, and Jason would be living. I wouldn’t have a hallway to walk up and down to see who was home, but I could walk over to those friends’ apartments instead.  Even though I didn’t like rushing into a major decision, I knew that my mind really was made up by now, so I took a deep breath and spoke before I had a chance to second-guess myself.

“I’ll take it,” I said.  “The one without the loft.  Apartment 124.”

“Great!”  Ann replied.  “Welcome to Las Casas!  Let me get you our New Resident Packet.”

I spent some time after that reading and signing papers.  I would have to write her a check for a deposit, although that was not a major concern because Mom had made sure I had enough money to cover the deposit when I was ready to sign a lease somewhere.  I would also have more papers to sign next week after Las Casas did all the paperwork on their end.

By the time I finished, it was past five o’clock, and I felt a great weight had been lifted now that I had a plan for next year.  I even had an address for next year. 701 Alvarez Avenue #124. I liked the sound of that. I had meant to do something else this afternoon as I was about town taking care of my adult business, but I thought it was probably too late in the day.  It could wait until tomorrow.

After I was done with classes the following day, Thursday afternoon, I ventured off campus again, but this time I went the other way on Fifth Street, toward downtown.  I drove east for about two miles, past the football stadium, past downtown, and eventually to a traffic light at a street called Power Line Road. Just past this, I turned into the parking lot for the Post Office.

I located the voter registration forms and began filling one out.  I used 221 C-Thomas Hall as my address, even though I would only be in that dorm room for another two months.  I couldn’t register to vote at my new address until I moved in on September 1. When I got to the part of the form listing political parties, I looked around to make sure no one could see me, then I covered the form with my left hand as I checked Republican with my right.  I learned pretty quickly during my first month at UJ that many people around here have a very negative view of Republicans. During the end of high school, I had gone through a phase where I was a big fan of the conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh. He was at the height of his popularity at the time.  I decided when I came to UJ that I wouldn’t get involved in any political groups, and I also stopped listening to Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, because I didn’t want someone else doing my political decision making for me. However, had I done more research on the political climate in Jeromeville, I probably would not have decided to come here.  I wasn’t exactly surprised, though, that a college town like Jeromeville would have a pronounced liberal slant. And, in hindsight, I’m glad I didn’t let the political climate in Jeromeville keep me from attending school here, because Jeromeville definitely grew on me over the years.

I dropped the form in the mailbox and headed back home.  Instead of going straight down Fifth Street, I turned left on F Street, right on First Street, and left on Old Jeromeville Road, reentering campus from the other direction instead.  No reason, I just felt like it.

When I entered Building C, I noticed Taylor and Pete in the common room, sitting on a couch talking.  They had textbooks and notebooks with them, but they did not appear to be doing any studying. “Hey, Greg,” Taylor said as I walked past.

“Hi, guys,” I said, walking toward them.

“How’s your week going?  I feel like I’ve hardly seen you the last few days.”

“I’ve been writing,” I said.  This was during the time I was writing the first draft of The Commencement, and I had spent most of my free time this week in my room writing.  I was really absorbed in this project. “I’ve also been busy with other stuff.  I signed a lease yesterday.”

“Oh, yeah?  For an apartment for next year?”

“Yeah.”

“Where is it?” Pete asked.

“Las Casas.  Corner of Andrews and Alvarez.”

“That’s near us,” Taylor said.

“You’re at The Acacia, right?” I asked.

“Yeah.  And Danielle and Theresa are at The Acacia too.”

“That’s what I thought.”

“Did you find a roommate, or are you living by yourself?” Pete asked.

“By myself.  In a studio apartment.  It’s plenty of room for just me.”

“That’s cool,” Taylor said.  “You’ll have to come see our place after we move in.”

“Definitely.”

“You done with class for the day?”

“Yeah.”

“Us too.”

“I really need to go upstairs and use the bathroom,” I said, becoming increasingly uncomfortable at my full bladder.  “But I’ll see you guys at dinner, maybe?”

“Yeah.  And enjoy writing.”

I went upstairs, and after using the bathroom, I turned on the radio and the computer.  The radio was set to the classic rock station. On the computer, I checked my email; I had a message from Kim, one of my Internet friends.  She was a freshman at Florida State University. I opened it and began reading.


Hi Greg!  How are you?  Thanks for explaining how your schedule works.  I wasn’t sure why you had new classes in April. I don’t know any schools around here that do that.

Last night was so much fun!  My roommate and I went to this party.  I thought it was going to be a little too wild for me, but everyone there was so nice, and we danced with these guys a lot… they were so funny!

Did you ever find a place to live for next year?  I hope you find a roommate! One of my older friends here was telling me that he needed a place to live, so he and his friend got this really nice looking apartment, but after they moved in they discovered that everything was falling apart and needed to be fixed.  Also, their neighbors played really loud music and smoked pot all the time… I hope you don’t end up somewhere like that!

I need to get to class… have a great day!

~~ Kim


I clicked Reply and began typing.


Sounds like you had a fun night with your friends last night.  I don’t really go to wild parties like that. I think I told you my dorm is an honors program, so most of us aren’t really partiers.

I found a place to live.  Yesterday I signed a lease on an apartment.  I didn’t find a roommate, and I didn’t want to live with a stranger, so I’ll be living by myself in a small studio apartment; it’s a little pricey, but my parents said it would be ok.  It’s about a mile north of campus, in a neighborhood with a lot of fairly nice student type apartments. It’s right on a bus line that runs to campus every half hour. Also, some of my friends from the dorm will be living fairly close.

How were your classes?

-gjd


In 1995, I was using email client software called Eudora.  Eudora worked by dialing the campus Internet access phone number using a 14.4-kilobaud modem connected to my telephone line.  Eudora would stay connected just long enough to send emails I had typed, and to download anything new in my inbox. These new emails would be saved on my computer’s hard drive, so that after the messages had been received, Eudora could disconnect from the computer, and my telephone line would be free again.  I clicked Send/Receive, and as I listened to the whistles and buzzes of the modem sending my message across the continent from Jeromeville to Tallahassee, my mind began to wander. What if my experience at Las Casas was like that of Kim’s friend at his apartment? What if the neighbor upstairs in Apartment 224 was loud or smelly?  What if I had made a big mistake?

No, I told myself.  I can’t keep thinking like this, wondering if everything I did was a big mistake.  I had an apartment. I would be living by myself again, so I wouldn’t have the stress of learning to live with roommates.  And I would have friends living nearby, just as I did this year. They would be a little farther away, about a 5 to 10 minute walk instead of just down the hall, but they were still pretty close.  It was a great situation, and it was going to be a great year. Worst case scenario, if I ended up hating Las Casas, I would only have to endure it for a year, and then I could live somewhere else junior year.  There was nothing to gain by worrying and second guessing myself at this point.

The band Boston was playing on the radio.  Boston, a rock band originating in the city of the same name, had a string of hits in the late 1970s.  They were played often on classic rock radio stations of the 1990s, and they still are today. When I first discovered classic rock in high school, I always thought Boston was kind of catchy.  And I discovered, on a family road trip when Mom told me to find something on the radio, that Dad hates Boston. (To this day, I have never told my dad that I always kind of liked Boston, or that after many trips browsing used music stores in the 2000s and 2010s, I now have all three of the albums that their major hits came from).

I was 18 years old.  It was okay for me to like different things than my parents, because I was an adult.  I was growing up. I was developing a unique taste in music, and I was obtaining an education, preparing myself for some yet undetermined future career.  And now, in addition to that, I had taken another two big steps toward adulthood this week. I had signed a lease on an apartment all on my own, and I had registered to vote at my new home, in a different county than the one where my parents lived.  I still had a lot of growing to do. I would do a lot more growing in my remaining years in Jeromeville, and I am still growing today. But the events of today felt like a major step in the right direction.

apartment 124

November 1, 1994. The modified bumper sticker.

Election Day was in exactly one week, and as is usually the case at this time of year, radio and television and newspapers and bulletin boards in every building here at UJ were full of advertisements and flyers and opinion pieces telling everyone who to vote for.  This was not a Presidential election year, but many legislative seats were up for election, and in this state, it was also an election year for the governor.  And this was my first time being old enough to vote.

A candidate named Kathleen Rose was challenging the incumbent governor, and polls were indicating that the election was a tossup and could go either way.  The Rose family had been part of the political establishment in this state for a long time.  Kathleen’s father had been a governor, and her older brother had held many offices at the local and state level for decades, including governor as well.  In keeping with her family tradition, Kathleen Rose campaigned on a platform of higher taxes, bigger government, and whatever was trendy in politics at the time.  Additionally, she was a woman in a state which had never elected a female governor, so she labeled anyone who disagreed with her as a bigoted sexist. This made her a very popular candidate in a university town like Jeromeville, and a very unpopular candidate in my world.

I was sitting in Rise and Fall of Empires, trying to fight the urge to doze off.  This was an IHP class, so it was only open to students in the program. All of the students in the class were students I knew who also lived in Building C.  A guy named Dan, from room 303 or 304 or somewhere down at that end of the third floor, sat in front of me, and he had a button on his backpack that said KATHLEEN ROSE GOVERNOR ‘94 with an outline of the state in the background.  All the political parties and organizations had been setting up tables on campus for the last few weeks to hand out buttons and stickers and other propaganda, and I had seen these buttons and stickers all over campus.

I stared at Dan’s Kathleen Rose button for a couple minutes, trying to listen to what the professor was saying, but finding my mind wandering.  I kept staring at the button, looking at the letters that spelled out Kathleen Rose’s name and the numbers ‘94. ‘94 was my high school graduation year, of course, and to this day I say that 94 is one of my favorite integers.

Then, suddenly, I noticed something.  I had an idea, and I couldn’t wait for class to be over so I could act on my idea.  I was a little more awake for the rest of class.

Class got out at noon.  Before I got back on my bike to Building C and the dining hall, I walked across the Quad, where all the political campaigns had tables set up.  I nervously walked toward the Kathleen Rose table, looking over my shoulder to make sure that no one who knew me was watching. I saw some people from my class still outside the building where the class was, so instead of going to the Kathleen Rose table, I changed course and went to the campus bookstore.  I hid for about five minutes pretending to browse school supplies, then I went back out to the Quad. I didn’t see anyone I knew, so I walked up to the Kathleen Rose table.

“Would you like to register to vote?” the volunteer at the table said.

I’m not good at lying, so I nervously said something that technically did not require telling any lies.  “I’m already registered with the other party,” I said, “but can I still have a Kathleen Rose sticker?”

“You sure can!”

“Thanks!”  I grabbed two stickers, hoping to make it look like an accident and that they were stuck together.  I hurriedly walked away from the table before anyone could see me, before the guy noticed that I took two stickers.  I looked at the stickers, to make sure that my idea would work.


Kathleen

ROSE

FOR GOVERNOR

 

Perfect.  This would work.  I opened my backpack, put the stickers inside, closed my backpack, and walked back to where I had parked my bike.  I rode home to Building C.

After eating a chicken patty sandwich and French fries at the dining hall, I went back to my room and closed the door.  I took the two Kathleen Rose stickers out of my backpack. I cut out the E in ROSE on one of the stickers and threw the rest of that one away.  I selectively applied white-out to the top and middle prongs of the E, so that it looked like a different letter. I then took the other sticker and cut out the R in ROSE.  I used Scotch tape to attach the modified E with the two prongs missing to the space where the R had been, and then I taped the R to the right side of the sticker, after the intact E in ROSE.  I stood back and admired my handiwork.


Kathleen

LOSER

FOR GOVERNOR

 

I did not have anything to stick it on, so I used push pins to attach the Kathleen Loser sticker to my bulletin board.

After I got back from dinner that night, I left my door open.  I was sitting at my desk, doing math problems and dialing into the school network to check my email way more often than I needed to, when I heard a knock.  I turned around.

Spencer from room 123 downstairs was standing in the doorway.  “Hey, Greg,” he said, stepping into the room. “What pages did we have to read for next time for Rise and Fall?”

I opened my notebook for that class and read to him what I had written down.  “Thanks,” Spencer said. He turned around and started to leave, but suddenly stopped, staring at something on the wall behind me.  He pointed at the bulletin board. “Kathleen Loser!” he said. “That’s hilarious!”

“Thanks,” I said, chuckling.  “I saw them giving out bumper stickers today on the Quad, and I just had that idea.”

“That’s great!  I might just have to get one so I can do that!  Wait… how did you get the L in Loser?”

“I cut out an E from a second sticker, and used white-out to make it an L.”

Spencer looked more closely at the sticker, his mouth open in excited surprise.  “That’s brilliant!” he said. “I love it! Kathleen Loser! I hope she does lose.”

“Me too,” I said.

“Thanks for looking up the assignment for me.  I’ll see you later.”

“Have a good one.”

I heard the door to the stairs open and close as Spencer headed back down to his room.  I had learned quickly in the five and a half weeks I had been in Jeromeville that the culture of the city and university lean to the left politically.  This had not been particularly surprising, given what universities tend to be like, but sometimes I still felt like some of my views were very unpopular in my surroundings.  It was nice to know that at least someone else in the IHP was not a fan of Kathleen Loser.

As an adult, by this time of year I am sick of hearing all the political mudslinging.  But 1994 was different.  It was my first time being old enough to vote.  And even though my views were in the minority around here, it still felt like I was making a difference for the first time ever.  My vote for the opposition might not have decided the election, but a bunch of people doing the same thing really can make a difference, and that is one of the reasons I love this country.

P.S.  Kathleen Loser lost.