Sunday, August 29, 2010
Friday Five: Dorm, Eh, Vous?
But this is all actually somewhat relevant to today's Friday Five. Because we've spent much of the past week running errands back and forth between here, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti -- homes, respectively, of the University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University. The campuses there, as well as their surrounding cities, are gearing up for Welcome Week and the start of the fall semester; we found ourselves sharing the local highways with cars jam-packed and spilling over with back-to-school stuff, and even gave one befuddled parent in an Ann Arbor parking lot directions to campus while the flushed, freshman-y young woman beside her could barely contain her excitement. That did bring back memories of our own university days. (The photo above, by the way, is of Yakeley Hall, my home for three years at Michigan State.)
So, with that in mind, I commence to our Friday Five:
1) What was the hardest thing to leave behind when you went away to school for the first time?
Our new puppy. My parents' sweet little fuzzy-faced mutt had been killed by a car earlier in the summer; but despite their initial declaration that they were never having another dog ever again, by August they'd placed a classified in the local paper inquiring about "Benji-type" dogs. The day the paper came out they'd gotten a phone call from someone who said she'd rescued a cute terrier-mix puppy from a downstate freeway median but just couldn't keep her; might we be interested? My dad said sure; so the next day the family drove by and introduced us to a raggedy, rail-thin but flamboyant pup who leapt from the car, gave kisses to everyone within licking distance and proceeded to race around and around our house as if saying, "I like it here! I like it here!" So Mitzi became part of the family -- two weeks before I left for school. That was tough.
2) We live in the era of helicopter parents. How much fuss did your parents make when you first left home?
The concept of helicopter parents has certainly changed over the decades. When I was in school the deal was that, barring emergency, I would call home every Sunday evening to check in; I'd let the phone ring twice, then hang up, and the 'rents would call me back so I wouldn't have to pay for a long-distance call. This would wind up being maybe a 10-minute call if any of us were particularly chatty. My mother would write me every other week, and I in turn might manage a monthly written summary/unload of stuff too personal to communicate over the phone lines. And this was a rarity; most of my friends talked to their parents far less. How odd this seems now, in these days of families attached 24/7 to their cell phones and Facebook pages.
My parents -- neither of whom went to college -- did not make a great deal of fuss when they moved me into my first dorm room; it was a pretty businesslike transaction (despite my inner "YIPPEE!" ready to burst out). But many years later my mom told me that they were both traumatized by this event; that they cried all the way home.
3) Share a favorite memory of living with schoolmates, whether in a dorm or other shared housing.
Even though I loved being in college, I always felt the odd woman out on my particular dorm floor; a poor country kid surrounded by affluent suburbanites, daughters of auto-company execs and other professionals. I only knew of perhaps three other women on the floor with a similar background.
One night, after coming home late from a Lutheran campus ministry function (I was a church geek even then, although in those days church geekery tended to involve beer before, during or after said church function), I found one of the blue-collar women, a studious education major from a homeftown nearly as small as mine, sitting forlornly in the hallway; she'd forgotten her room key and was waiting for her roommate to return from the bar. The floor seemed otherwise empty; it was the weekend, after all, and most people were out partying. She had been out herself, and had evidently had a lot more to drink than I had with my Lootern buddies; enough to completely disable her self-censoring mechanism. And she was in the mood to talk. To me. About everything.
So I kept her company out in the hallway, as she proceeded to unload all the deliciously snarky observations about the rich girls around us that I shared deep down but had never been able to articulate to anyone before: the materialism and conspicuous consumption; the lack of real interest in academics and the life of the mind; the not-terribly-hidden bigotries against various minorities on campus and petty unkindnesses toward other students in general; the silliness of Greek life; the sense of entitlement that was often mind-boggling to those of us who didn't come from well-to-do or education-friendly families; the way the reality of their behavior conflicted with the fantasies we'd had about escaping our smallminded small towns for ivy-covered halls filled with big ideas and progressive thinkers. When I heard, "____ YOU, you BITCHES," come out of the mouth of this normally meek future schoolteacher, each word suspended in echo down the empty hall, I felt like a therapist helping someone through a catharsis...maybe even my own.
After that evening, whenever we met in the hallway or at some gathering we always seemed to give one another a special raised-eyebrow acknowledgement: We've got their number, sisterfriend.
4) What absolute necessity of college life in your day would seem hilariously out-of-date now?
Typewriters; typing paper; typewriter erasers; carbon paper; press-on type for graphics projects.
5) What innovation of today do you wish had been part of your life in college?
Laptop computers. Back in my college days, only the geekiest of the geeks over in the honors science dorm had access to personal computers -- and we're talking the Atari/first-iteration Apple kind. I remember taking an off-campus adult enrichment class on the Apple, being totally befuddled by the whole thing, and thinking, "What possible practical use will this ever be to me?"
Bonus question for those whose college days feel like a long time ago: Share a rule or regulation that will seem funny now. Did you really follow it then?
Co-ed dorms had become the norm at MSU by my time, so my own single-sex dorm, and the rules that governed male visitors, already seemed like a quaint novelty -- as did the Women's Lounge in the Student Union. I myself liked the restrictions; I didn't particularly care for running into other students' male sleepovers in the communal shower room, or the puerile types who tried crashing the Women's Lounge (which was very well-appointed, quiet and comfortable compared to the other common areas of the Union) to make a point about reverse discrimination or to pick up women or to leer at lesbians or whatever.