Sunday, May 18, 2014

Let's Do The College Time Warp By C.P. Stringham

The quaint campus of Alfred University.
Bianca leading us towards the residence halls.
My husband and I went on our first college visit with our daughter. The campus of Alfred University is nestled in the quaint town of Alfred, New York. Main Street consists of a swipe of shops and food establishments and the entrances for both Alfred State and Alfred University—one on the left side and the other on the right. The town reminded Syd and me of Stars Hollow and, yes, that’s a Gilmore Girls reference.  AU was founded in 1836 and has an average of 2,000 students. The school truly appealed to my daughter for many reasons. I saw her eyes light up as soon as we parked in front of the admissions office. Her major will be history education and, out of coincidence, we crossed paths with one of the history professors during our tour. Dr. Ostrower was extremely welcoming and told us to feel free to stop by his office to chat about the program, provided our schedule permitted it. Our student guide told us that Dr. Ostrower is one of the campus favorites among students. Aside from the school’s academic qualities, Syd likes that the average class size is twelve students. She feels she will be able to thrive in a smaller institution and benefit from the more individualized attention from professors versus being lost in the sea of masses at a large university with lecture halls accommodating hundreds of students at a time. Earning big points for Alfred was their equestrian program. All three of us really liked Nancy Kohler the equestrian facility director and English team coach. We have a visit scheduled at Cazenovia College this Wednesday. It’s another small private college with an equestrian team. It will take a truly fantastic visit at Caz to top Alfred.  

While touring Alfred, so many fond memories came to mind from my own college experience. I attended a two-year business school in Syracuse where I studied retail merchandising and marketing. I lived in a suite with six other girls during my first year. Two of my roommates attended high school with me and it was nice having familiar faces in a new setting. Through the normal socializing that goes on, I established friendships with the ladies who would be my second year roommates. One of my first year roommates came with me. The five of us had so much more in common and just meshed well together. We were a sisterhood. Our suite, D-6, comprised of: Millie, the Heavy Metal headbanger, from Chaumont, NY and an accounting/business management major; Darci, the “mom” of our group, from Carthage, NY and an executive secretarial studies major; Donna, the laidback, go-with-the-flow girl, from Medina, NY and a another secretarial major. Last, but not least, my first year roommate, Becky. Becky was the room clown and from Forrestport, NY. She was a legal secretarial studies major and easily the shortest person at school. She was born with a terrible case of scoliosis and had undergone, at least, a dozen back surgeries before college. She told us that Boston Children’s Hospital didn’t simply have a medical file dedicated to her, but an entire filing cabinet. There was a rod fused from hip to hip, a rod fused from shoulder to shoulder, and a rod fused along her spine. She used to joke that she could double as a TV antenna.

Room D-6 mascot, Puke Fart
Lenny's father passed away and Liz-Betty and
  I went to the services. He was truly touched.

The five of us would stay up into the wee hours talking about everything and nothing. We laughed together, cried together, we discussed our dreams and fears and hopes together. Darci, Becky, and I would spend hours each afternoon in the school library. We were on friendly terms with the librarian, Mrs. Hall, and her assistant, Mrs. Shanahan. We’d read newspapers, magazines, and books—really, anything we could find. It was our entertainment. Due to being permanent fixtures in the library, we also had the pleasure of getting to know many of the school’s professors outside of class—even the professor I had a huge crush on! Oh, don’t judge me. Like you’ve never been there before. Anyway, the crush didn’t matter because it turns out he was gay. He introduced me to his life partner. Nice guy. I hated him.
L to R: Nance Pilowa, Lenny Colella with students, and my roommate, Millie. We had a champagne toast in the parking lot after graduation. 
My first foray into “novel writing” came about during my second year of college. I was known as the storyteller. On nights when primetime TV proved boring, we’d switch it off and my roommates would ask me to tell them a story—off the cuff. And so I would. Subject matter varied. They never knew where I was going with the plot during my narrative. Sometimes, the stories would be rather steamy. I know. Shocker. I remember Millie going to bed chanting, “Good dream tonight. Good dream,” as she pounded her pillow and settled in with a smile on her face. The idea of having my roommates involved in setting up the basis for a novel came about. They liked taking part in the planning process. I asked them to think about their dream life at age thirty. I also asked them to come up with new identities and, since it was romance, even to describe their ideal love life. They were overly eager to help and so Manhattan Runways came into fruition. It got to be such a fun talking point with them, other friends asked to be added to the project and we held readings in our room when each new chapter was finished. Good times. Maybe, someday, I’ll take that manuscript out of mothballs and rework it. Set in the late eighties, it would be a fantastic “historical” fiction novel!
L to R and T to B: Meridith, Becky, Darci, and Donna

My roommates and I did more than academics and story writing. In fact, we were downright silly at times. We had a few parties in our room. Again, shocking. Probably not our brightest idea since it was a dry campus and our floor’s resident advisor was also our next door neighbor. Even worse, our school used alumni members and not current students for RA’s. That way, the school was getting a mature RA who took the job more seriously and, in return, the RA received free room and board. Of course, our room was quite friendly with Rogette. I’m fairly certain she was aware of all of our little soirees only she didn’t bust us for them. One night, Millie and I were the only ones to stay for the weekend. We planned a night of drinking; she had her Jack and Pepsi and I had my SoCo and Pepsi. Through poor planning, we ran out of Pepsi early into the festivities. We put our heads together and mixed the Jack and SoCo creating, what we thought, was a brilliant drink—Comfortable Jacks. The hangover the next morning was a killer. As a warning, I’d also suggest not mixing the two bourbons together unless you are completely trashed first.
The girls and I went on long walks along Sedgwick Drive where all the fancy houses were. We each had our favorite house and would make up funny stories about us living in the same community with each other, growing old together. Becky even had a fictional dog. He was a Chihuahua we named Puke Fart. I drew a cartoon of him and he sort of became our room mascot. We’d walk to Schiller Park and “played” tennis. Millie used to kill the ball and I’d always have to go outside of the fence for it. I think she had a lot of pent up rage and tennis was therapeutic for her. I lost more balls that way. The five of us would save up our soda cans and bottles and redeem them all at once so we could order takeout from Jockey Joe’s Pizza or Josh’s Pizzeria—loving it when we didn’t have to eat cafeteria food. On occasion, Mom and Dad would send some cash and we’d walk to Ike’s Superette for forbidden junk food because the stash brought from home was long gone. Items on Ike’s shelves, like Pop-Tarts, used to have a layer of dust on them. Desperate college students looking for a sugar rush never check expiration dates though. C’mon, we were the same people who left the pizza sit out overnight and then eat it for breakfast in the morning. I’m still here so it couldn’t have been too unhealthy, right? Darci and I even had a stint babysitting for my English professor, Mrs. Pilowa. Funny story about her, on my first day of Business English, she came in wearing dark sunglasses just as class was supposed to start. With a deep sigh, she sank into her desk chair and said, “I’m Nance Pilowa. In the classroom, you can call me Nance. In the school common areas, please call me Mrs. Pilowa because that’s how the dean of students wants it. I am the bitch of the English department so, if you feel you can’t handle the expectations of my class, there’s the door. Transfer out now and save me the trouble if you do so later. Any questions?” She looks around. “No? Good. Let’s get started, shall we?” I remember gulping with fear and settling into my seat. I’m glad I persevered because she was an awesome professor with an incredible sense of humor. Turns out she suffered from terrible migraines at times and had to wear her sunglasses to block out bright light.
My closest classmates from the retailing program were Meridith “Marci” and Elizabeth. Elizabeth was okay with being called Libby, but don’t call her Liz or Betty or Beth. She hated those shortened versions. So, naturally, we called her Liz-Betty. The chairperson of our department started it and the name stuck. Speaking of our department chair, Lenny Colella was magnificent. Before entering the world of academia, he was a women's wear buyer for The Addis Company. Class time was spent following along in the book and listening to stories of his days as a buyer. While his lessons in my Marketing I & II were great, he also taught us the skill of well-crafted sarcasm and dark humor. I think he considered me a star pupil on the latter subject. He signed my yearbook with: “Every once in a while we meet people with that unusual sense of humor—an innate understanding of people and a vicious mental process that terrifies me—you are that person. Fortunately we can relate to each other. Alas, that is why we are so compatible. We share the same wavelength. With this in mind—look where your future is going—if I can do it, so can you. Love, Lenny”
So many great memories! Since the invention of Facebook, it has been easier to keep in touch with most of my college friends. I did recently discover that Becky passed away in 2010. Such a tragedy. She was much too young.

How about you? Care to share a blast from the past memory?

1 comment:

  1. My college days weren't the best, but one night sticks out. I lived in a small dorm, and one weekend the group of us that weren't out partying...short sheeted as many beds as we could, except for one girl...Poor Katy came home to a room that had been completely reversed! Posters, books, drawers...we even turned her bed around so that the drawers in the frame were against the wall. Unfortunately, the guys they brought home with them were unable to turn the bed around without dropped it and spilling all her "girlie" items out from the drawers. Oops...