College Years (and years)

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

Higher education in the sixties and seventies

High school finally came to an end.  I graduated armed with the knowledge, self assurance and wisdom I would need to leave the nest, brave the real world and fly to faraway lands to begin my adult life in an institution of higher learning.  I chose Upsala College.  I lived in a dorm even though it was only about 35 minutes from home (baby steps).  Actually Upsala chose me.  It was a Lutheran school and I got a huge financial break due to being a God fearing member of the church, and poor.  My pastor wrote a letter confirming that I was indeed a member but not in good standing.  I was puzzled.  Was it all the inane questions I had during our Luther League sex education retreat or the eye rolling, or the subtle snickering that quickly devolved into uncontrolled guffaws.  Come to think of it, it could have been a number of things. But I was in. 

My first day was promising.  My new roommate wasn’t there when I got to our room, but I saw a 12 string guitar and pack of Marlboro cigarettes.  My long time childhood friend played a 12 string and smoked the same brand and I took it as a positive sign.  It was.  My roommate turned out to be a great guy and we’re still friends some 50 years later.  We spent many hours lamenting the fact that we’re probably the only virgins on campus and wondering if and when that would change and betting which one of us would be the first.

Anyway, there I was a “college man”, with goals and priorities that needed to be sorted.  Most important; I had to start growing a beard in an attempt to look professorial.  I got a sport coat with elbow patches and took up pipe smoking, wisely staying away from the vile Cherry Blend that my uncle smoked in a closed car when I was a kid; causing severe nausea he called “car sickness”.  I was awesome, as repeatedly confirmed by my friends on my weekend trips home so my mom could do my laundry.  I even got an old beat up red Alfa Romeo sports car (just like Dustin Hoffman drove in The Graduate) and started dating in earnest.  I even beat my roommate in our private little wager.  Yep, I had it all.  Covered all the bases, or so I thought.  The school repeatedly pointed out that the part eluding me was the pesky studying.  Finally midway through my sophomore year they insisted that I consider another school, or a trade, or the military or pretty much anything that didn’t involve them.  I was out.

My brother was attending graduate school at The University of Tennessee and seemed to like it.  I had neither preference nor direction, so figured why not give them a try.  What I didn’t count on was how judgmental they would be about my grades.  They were not impressed and insisted that I take 3 classes in subjects that involved my major at any accredited school other than theirs and get straight A’s.

I enrolled in Newark State College not far from my uncle’s deli, where I worked.  I’m not sure how, but I got the grades needed and was reluctantly accepted at UT just as my brother was leaving for the Army and Vietnam.  He later returned triumphantly as an officer and got his doctorate shortly after.  My family was tripping over themselves trying to figure out if he preferred to be called “Doctor” or “Captain”.  My accomplishments of being able to tie my own shoes and feed myself seemed to go unnoticed.  If I sound jealous and petty, I may have been.

I packed up and moved to Knoxville, Tennessee where I found an apartment to share.  This was really my first time out of the nest.  My new roommate and I had to be concerned with rent, electric and phone bills, had to buy food and cook it and other real world adult stuff.  To complicate things; growing up in rented apartments all my life, I was never allowed to have a dog or a motorcycle.  In short order I got both and haven’t been without either for any length of time since. 

I changed my image form pipe smoking professor wannabe to long haired motorcycle riding hippie.  I still smoked a pipe, but my taste in what I filled it with changed dramatically.

My social life was booming!  And why not; I was cool.  A long haired motorcycle riding carefree hippie that was a fine arts major to boot.  Again, had all the bases covered.Didn’t forget a thing; did I?  Oh yeah, that irritating studying part.  The university reminded me of that by putting me on academic and social probation.  Yet another endorsement of how cool I was. 

At this point, I was paying my own way so it was time to quit anyway, get a steady paying job, save up for tuition and reenroll at a more appropriate time.  I got various jobs from house painting, to brick cleaning, to late night pizza delivery.When enough funds came together, I enrolled in school again to pursue my Fine Arts degree and maintain my relevance in a socially turbulent world.  I recall having one roommate who was a “Ceramics Engineer” major.  Even though he was a fellow biker and rode a beautiful BSA; not cool!  What a nerd, he spent his time studying what temperature to bake glazes on electronic components or other such seemingly mindless endeavors.  He even did some homework and went to class.  It was like he was obsessed.  I, on the other hand, perfected my skills of drawing and sculpting nude models.  I was shocked to learn after a few years that his skills were infinitely more marketable than mine.  Who knew?

Anyhow, after six and a half years of attending college that flew by like; well six and a half years, I actually graduated with a degree in fine arts.  I was proud of myself and started waiting for the many job opportunities that would come my way.  I had a role model in the form of a young art professor who also rode a motorcycle and even dated some of the same girls I did.  The basic difference between us was that while I was not getting paid for the privilege of staying around the campus atmosphere; he was.  I had to get on the other side of that equation.  Finally an opportunity opened up for a teaching job in the art department and I eagerly applied.  So did a dozen or so other wannabe professors.  Interestingly, my grades were not among the best of that group at all and I wasn’t chosen.  After many other job interviews (where I brought my portfolio of naked women) that started with “nice art work” and ended with “grab that shovel and follow me”, I finally went back to late night pizza delivery around the campus for a small franchise called “Munchies Pizza” (a stunningly appropriate name at the time).  The tips were both chintzy and illegal.  I stumbled through a variety of other “careers” for many years before finally succeeding at a great career in business, but that’s another story.


Submitted: April 16, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Peter Abec. All rights reserved.

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