you rub the crud from your eyes, stuff the book & cd player
into the backpack at your feet and wait to unboard.
as you step from the plane the blast of hot dry air whips
through the lips of the gangway. the terminal isn’t packed, but there is that
bustle of mid-day, mid-week major airport – very professional. after the
baggage claim, the search for the car begins. a hand shoots up accompanied by a
wave back and begin carting the three black suitcases over to grandpa’s car.
bags are loaded and a brief hug is exchanged woven with the
typical “how are you’s?” and “are you ready champ?” the crisp cut of the a/c is
as a dramatic shift from the oppressive heat from the radiant concrete as
exiting the dark garage into the blinding Phoenix sun.
the bleached-out buildings, patterned palm trees, and sprawling
superhighways are a far cry from the dense pines of southern Maine you had left
in order to catch that predawn flight out of Logan International this morning…
a map led us to a small little parking lot on the west side of
campus. there were signs directing you into a squat little building across the
wide sidewalk, so you propose to grandpa that he stay there while you run over
and make sure it’s the right spot.
the entranceway opened up to a sizeable square courtyard. neon
poster-board glitter glue signs pointed to the “office” on the opposite side of
the dorm. paperwork in hand, you cross over amidst the wandering milieu of
students parents and aids. at the front desk your name is on the list, a key
& another packet of paperwork & fliers is handed over. with your bundle
you scurry back to grandpa, still waiting in his car. the two of you lug the
bags up to your new room. some luggage is already inside, its owner is not.
with only some “welcome to campus!” coom-bye-ya orientation
scheduled for that evening, you were down with the prospect of dinner. having
only visited the city as a kid, it was shocking to realize that the familiar
restaurant grandpa drove to was less than a mile up the main drag, Mill Ave.
steaks and warm soft bread stinging with rosemary consumed under conversation
that could otherwise be described as a pleasant and heartfelt chat. sun still
hanging just above the horizon, grandpa rolls back into the exact same parking
spot as before. he walks you as far as the brick square of the dorm’s entrance,
another hug and some redundant questions intended as reassurances and as soon
as his car is out of the lot and up the road you pull out a cigarette, sitting
down on the slab of a bench out front.
fall asleep in one life one day to wake up in another.
what the hell?
the campus was big. it was a grid of wide pedestrian avenues
filled with flat grassy lawns and square buildings of pinkish/grey/kaki brick,
glass and concrete sprawling over a square mile into the bleak & alien
desert suburbia.[i] and it was
hot. everything the sun could hit was warm to the touch.
the first days would filter through
stunned daze shock. the landscape, the odd new pace, the born-again for a
roommate, having a roommate, not having a home, living out of suitcases, being
a new kind of alone… all of it so sharp as to not even feel anything as it sunk
within a week two kids from your dorm had already been arrested
for smoking weed. what you came to learn is that even though there were two
headshops and a stoner version of Quizno’s named Cheba Hut within blocks of
campus, it was a felony to possess even a stem or single seed of grass. looking
back, it’s really quite funny and sad that you considered the ridiculous
situation akin to a police state. little did you know that the fun hadn’t even
there were rush parties, late mornings and even later nights
crammed into tiny dorm rooms passing around bottles of candy flavored vodka and
piss beer. class was of little concern, it was even easier than that crap in
high school but what was amusing to you was that the divide between the
studious and aloof had actually widened and intensified, and come Friday night
everyone cut loose(er).
your generally pleasant nature, fair appearance, and social
colorblindness had resulted in the usual situation of mostly everyone being
amiable towards you but at the same time not being one thing or enough of
another to be scooped up by any one of the rapidly forming cliques within the
life of your dorm. the small handful of others that weren’t attached to anyone
group or another would ultimately become your closer friends, mostly this group
was composed of the ‘businessmen’ of the building. one in particular you would
rarely hang-out with for any one length of time but he came to admire your
confidentiality and criminal honesty very quickly. as he was not a consumer of
his wares, which changed in color and composition with every shipment, he found
that you were more than willing to sample the broken pills from the bottom of
the baggie in exchange for a description of the effects phrased in the format
of a sales pitch he could then use later. ecstasy was already a long-time
favorite of yours, so a cheap and limitless supply a few doors down suited you
a few weeks into the semester you found yourself in what would
become an all too predictably familiar set up; hunched over a canvass or
drawing, spun half out of your mind listening to the electronic music of raves
that had come to define most of your high-school years. it was a Tuesday or
Wednesday so nothing much else seemed to be going on outside your immediate
bubble, a bong hit here and there with the occasional trip to the bench out
front to chain smoke a few Camel Lights and maybe chat with whoever else was
out there. then back up to paint some more. a typical night.
that next morning the alarm went off to wake you for that 7:20
a.m. English class you never made it too with any regularity. you were awake
with plenty of time to make it but an iced latte and a bike ride off campus was
way more appealing. Thus, after pulling on pants and shoes and shirt, and after
rolling a couple joints you headed out and down the mall for coffee beverage.
it was really quite a gorgeous morning which only strengthened your resolve to
biking through a the residential blocks just to the west of
campus you followed a now all to familiar path to the railroad overpass that
served as a great vantage point for your illicit activities. in all six
directions of egress you could see approaching others a minimum of one city
block away, plenty of time to get rid of anything incriminating.
with coffee and the din of traffic and birds, morning sun
beating down on your arms and face, you felt great nursing away the
unpleasantness from last night’s creative session. after a time it was time to
return to campus and grab a bit to eat. you had to be stoned to eat campus
food. good and stoned. it struck you as odd that the best and brightest of that
generation was expected to nourish themselves on slop trough eggs, sugary
cereals, Burger King & Chick-fil-A. boundless contradiction was nothing new
upon re-entering the campus grounds it was eerily quiet for
eight o’clock. whatever though, it was in the middle of morning classes so
people were either still in bed or where they were otherwise supposed to be. as
you locked up your bike in the courtyard of your dorm, the silence continued.
one of the cute girls from across the way was seated at the picnic table
weeping and you had to giggle to yourself, “that’s what you get for trying to
date those fraternity jock douchebags.” then as you made your way up to your
room you noticed there were actually lots of kids wandering around or glued to
TV’s with faces of tear streaked vacant disbelief. passing your room you headed
down the hall to another dorm where a couple drama and music major friends of
yours lived, plus they had a TV.
their door was open and there were half a dozen kids in there,
“what the hell is going on?” you asked. everyone turned to stare at you in a
kind of frozen drone like way. “haven’t you heard?” Drew asked in wonder.
just then, the TV cut away mid-commercial to show a plane slamming into
the second tower. and you knew things were about to get very strange… an attack
of this magnitude on a day where the date strikes you as odd because terrorists
(at least in the movies) always attack on dates that are in some way
significant to them and their cause, instead of on dates that hold some
historical or cultural meaning to the those they are attacking such as this day
which is numerically identical to our national # for emergency, 9-1-1.