Thursday, May 9, 2013

Illusion of Individuality pt. 2


uhh, just a mess. always have been.
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 “woooo-hoo!” you 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 in.
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 started yet.
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 just fine.
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 skip class.
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 to you.
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.

[i] “ASU at the Tempe Campus,” (Accessed April 16, 2013).

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