It was weird going through all my old college crapola over the weekend. It’s almost as it they were relics from someone else’s life. I mean, just in looking over some of my class notes, even though I recognized my handwriting, it didn't seem like it came from me. I was like, “I used to know this stuff??”
I guess I needed some time to figure out how I wanted to blog about my college years; that’s why I “punted” on Sunday. I wish I could say I came up with something ingenious, but that obviously didn't happen. But I decided that rather than try to tell some kind of linear story, I’d just hack off a couple of bites here and there.
If you’ll recall my Letter to an Incoming Freshman post, I advised my niece to buy used school books, because not only were they cheaper, they were often marked up by the original owner. When I first started school, I made the decision that I was going to keep all of mine. It wasn’t until my senior year, when money was growing tight, that I decided that chances were that I’d never, EVER have reason to crack these books again, and if I could turn them into some cash, I’d be a dummy not to do it.
I have about 4-5 books left, which were mostly from my senior year. I leafed through one of them, from my class on human sexuality, (hey, it was senior year and all I had left were electives), and while it was highly notated by previous owners, there was only one margin note from me.
There was a line in the text about Casanova, and how in the 18th century, he was the first to place hollowed out lemon across a woman’s cervix, to act as a diaphragm. (Citric acid can immobilize sperm.)
My note in the margin said, “the first sourpuss.”
|“OK, who’s defiling the fruit around here?” (Source)|
That’s when it dawned on me that if I hadn't intended to keep my books all along, I’d have spent more time putting notes in them, for the sole purpose of entertaining the next owner. And knowing me, I would have attached a feedback card with my address, to find out how they liked my material.
I mentioned before that I began my college career pursuing a major in journalism, and it didn’t last long because I chaffed at the constraints of journalistic writing. My first quarter of freshman year, though, I never took any courses applicable to my major. Somehow, I got into the honors program, where the courses were more demanding than the usual 100-level intro courses, but yielded higher credit for taking them.
That first quarter consisted of classes called, Values Analysis, Evaluating Social Controversy, Seminar on Social Sciences and Varieties of Writing. Although I didn’t know it at the time, these proved to be the most valuable of my college years, because they taught me how to organize my thoughts and opinions, deconstruct arguments, and in general, how to think. In fact, I think courses like those shouldn't be part of the honors curriculum; they should be requirements for every major.
Anyway, it wasn’t until the 2nd and 3rd quarters that I began taking journalism classes, and was thus turned off by the rigidity. That’s when I decided to go with a Broadcasting major, and after studying myself in the mirror, selected a radio concentration over TV. Granted, radio and TV writing have their own structures, but they also rewarded creativity. Any time I added any kind of flair or a unique perspective in my J-classes, I got smacked down for it.
I also went for a minor in Creative Writing, because I figured it would help with the broadcast writing, plus, it was fun. I don’t recall if I ever successfully completed the minor, but I took a number of writing and performing classes.
Oral Interpretation was a universal requirement in the College of Arts and Sciences. Oral Interp is basically the art of reading out loud… sort of like acting for people with a bad memory. That was great fun for me. And because I was also doing a lot of writing, I’d sometimes get to read my own material. That certainly made it easier for me to do the prep work, where you have to explain what the author is trying to say.
Most importantly, I learned how to mark up a script for reading, which is a skill I still use, whether I’m speaking to a group, or just creating a voice-mail greeting.
I also took an acting class, but was never really comfortable with it. I loved when we got to do improv in class, but I was always uncomfortable when I had to do a memorized speech, like for our final “exams.” I never got over feeling awkward and self-conscious, so I’m sure I looked quite wooden. Seriously, it was all I could do just to get the words out in the right order.
I took a number of creative writing classes, which I enjoyed, but for one problem. There was one class where two thirds of your work had to be prose, and one third had to be poetry, or vice versa.
At the time I thought I was a pretty good story writer, but in retrospect, I wasn't yet. But I knew I was a lousy poet, and that was no joke. I still have a bunch of the poems, and I guarantee they’re still cringe-worthy.
I really only wrote one or two that were serious attempts. One was about an old girlfriend; another was a tribute to Elton John, and believe me, THAT one will never see the light of day.
The others were all spoofs and satire, in marginally poetic form. (Yes, I refrained from limericks.) There was one “love poem” where I parodied poems about how blue their lovers’ eyes were, comparing them to the USDA stamp on a cut of meat (they used to do that), Grandma’s varicose veins, smoke from an old Chevy, and other bizarre things.
There was one that was a satire of a Hallmark card that was intentionally over-the-top drippy, with an ending of, “and if you won’t be mine, I shall lay me down and croak.”
I recycled one poem I wrote for a high school assignment, that was nothing but nonsense; just disjointed images and phrases. I guess I was sick of reading about long-ass poems about an urns or walls, that were in fact about something completely unrelated. Call it my version of substituting a child’s fingerpaint doodlings into a ritzy art gallery, to see if anyone notices.
Anyway, if my attempts taught me anything, it’s that the talent for poetry in my family begins and ends with my mom. If only I could go back in time and submit the poems for strippers I wrote on cocktail napkins… I might have pulled my grade up a bit.
My favorite writing project was a short story that was intended to be the last chapter of an English mystery… you know, the scene where all the suspects are gathered in the drawing room and the hard-boiled detective runs down and dismisses everyone’s motives until he finally reveals the killer.
I re-read that one on Sunday… I had so much fun with the character names. The murder victim’s family name was Bondeanerwintz, after a nickname we used to have for my buddy Brill. There was also Mr. Waterbaum, the business partner, Mrs. Gumbyboots, the maid, Miss Tittlewhittle, the secretary/mistress, Mrs. Preshrunk, the psychiatrist, Mrs. Sudsworth, the laundress, and Ray Bees, the Kennel Director. The detective, Nick O’Tyme, finally pinned it on Dr. Herpes, the family physician, who he accused of switching the dead man’s glycerin pills and inducing a heart attack with a cold stethoscope. It led to this exchange…
Det. O’Tyme: You wanted to use his body for your own medical experimentation.
Dr. Herpes: I say, you’re daft!
Det. O’Tyme: No more than you are, thinking you could get away with storing Mr. Bondeanerwintz in formaldehyde, up in your office. I saw him there when I searched the place last night.
Dr. Herpes: You’re bloomin’ loony. That was Mr. Emery.
Finally, the scene is interrupted by Mr. Butler, the cook, who shoots the detective and claims responsibility for the crime, saying he chopped up the victim and made him into a stew.
With his final breath, the detective asks, “Tell me one last thing… did you use oregano in that, or a pinch of garlic?”
I wish I could have claimed all the credit for the final twist, but I lifted it directly from my Barn friend, Billy G, who came up with it in a cassette tape he sent to us. (After he moved out of town, we didn’t write letters, we exchanged recorded tapes. His were often brilliant. I lifted a lot of stuff from our comedic collaborations over the years, for use on college assignments.)
More on the College Bluz, to come…