Campus Teaches Me One More Thing

11 Aug

My wife is back in school at Ohio State, and that’s resulted in a few trips down to campus to pick her up or drop her off when logistics called for it.  A lot has changed down there, as one would expect, and also as one would expect, quite a bit is exactly the same.

It’s a generally cleaner place now.   South campus, once a grinning ghetto full of crazy people and grifters and sleazy, bouncer-guarded bars has been replaced with an upscale mall.  An eerily standard upscale mall – they’ve really got the Non-Threatening To White People Mall Design down to a science now.  Every one of these places looks like it brushed against an Enormous White People Mall someplace, and then grew another one like a rash.

Well, it could be worse.  Certainly it’s a prettier sight, and I can remember back when south campus was a dingy, frowning eyesore, hearing stories about the campus tours they’d give the parents of prospective students, and how they had to really carefully steer around huge swaths of the surrounding area. 

You can’t sit there making your money off the students, and all the while hamstring the university they attend.  Eventually, someone’s going to knock you down and put something up more useful and cooperative, and who’s going to save you?  Your patrons?  No, man, we graduated and then left – that’s how it goes.  

It’s good for eveyone, I suppose, and I’d be very interested in learning if crime is down, or if the criminals simply put on nicer clothes, and shaved.  My hunch is, the place is probably slightly more dangerous in that it doesn’t appear to be dangerous at all, inspiring people to drop their guard.

South campus in the old days was a tossed salad of character and debauchery, independence and indifference, freedom and squalid, festering decay. 

This place is a salad all right.  It’s a salad made out of money – hard to blame anyone.

Something else different – cell phones.  People had them fifteen years ago, but now they are omnipresent.  If you thought the students had trouble watching where they were going back in 1993, just watch them all move around with their iPhones in their faces.  They look like an army of distracted and sinister clones.

Remember in the second Matrix movie, when Neo fought a few hundred Agent Smiths?  Okay, imagine that scene crossed with an old Mr. Magoo cartoon – that’s campus, if you’re interested in hilarious people-watching opportunities.  And yes, they still walk right out in front of cars – it’s okay!  I’m in college!

That’s the other thing I’m noticing, the alarming thing about campus which is pretty much the same.

It’s the people.  The people are the same as they ever were. 

Like the vampire crowd.  How hilarious is it that this modern obsession is a watered-down rerun?  I remember when Ann Rice turned a whole slice of the demographic into brooding, mysterious Vampires.   What must those pierced and eye-shadowed trench coat-wearers think of this new underwear model version?

I’ll bet the hippies from the sixties thought the same thing about the hippies from the nineties, in their Abercrombie tie-dyes and hundred-dollar sandals. 

Yes, girls in greek letters, passing out the bitchy looks.  Dudes with a foot of hair who won’t look you in the eye.  Very tall black men with elaborately decorated pants.  Small packs of athletes with their chortling, towel-snapping dude language. 

It’s disturbing, remembering my own opinion of myself, the opinions of my friends about ourselves, how we thought we were so unique and magnificent and powerful, and then you walk among the new batch and they’re just the same.  It’s not much different than how it feels to walk into middle school with your daughter, remembering the adolescent cliques and decorated lockers and the unbelievable timidity of interaction.

These kids feel the same way I did.  I can see it right there on their faces, the way they grin, the way they swagger.  I can’t help but imagine each of them putting on the clothing of their identies in the morning and feeling enormously pleased with themselves. 

Not knowing that they’re simply stepping into the roles which suit them best.  Not realizing that this is a phase as sure as the Terrible Twos. 

When I first arrived at OSU, I remember walking across the Oval and ignoring the crisscrossing sidewalk paths.  I knew which direction to go to, where my building was, so I walked there, and I was very pleased with myself for it.  Thought to myself, I’m in college and I don’t walk the paths – I go my own way.

Yes, and here I am fifteen years later – an unusual man, in some ways, to be sure.  But I realize that I’m walking the concrete paths now, and that I have a firm yet bland knowledge of why that is.

It’s because you get dog crap on your shoes, walking around the Oval off the sidewalks.  It has nothing to do with who you are – it has to do with how many times you’ve had to clean your damn shoes off.

These were good times, down here on campus.  I think if I could do them again, I’d probably focus a little harder, but that’s a forty year-old guy talking.  If I could do it again, I’d just be one of these kids again, and I’d think that I had invented the life I was leading out of my own magnificence and grandeur.

That’s how it always is, when you look back.  When I was a kid I’d sit around looking at the yearbook, and the kids in the next grade would seem so old and intimidating, then three years later, I’d pick up the same yearbook, and they’d look like little kids.

Sure, looking at these students swaggering around in my old shoes makes me feel kind of stupid, both for them and myself.  Like I mistook the shoes for something more meaningful, and now ha-ha, they’re doing it, too.  And there’s a little bit of envy, as well – I miss those shoes, ya bastards.

That’s getting old in a nutshell – looking back and realizing that you were a moron when you thought you were smart, a cliche when you thought you were original, normal when you thought you were hot shit.

Getting even older, and not doing that – my new goal in life.

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Posted by on August 11, 2010 in Future Tom Grab Bag


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