Monday, September 19, 2011

Going Away to College

Girls are unloading funky desk lamps, personal cases of bottled water and plastic bins of colorful textiles.  A family from New Jersey unloads a full-length mirror in store packaging.  Another freshman has a floppy stuffed dog.  Everyone carries plastic Target bags. 

Here's what my son brought:

  • Laptop, Laptop charger
  • Telephone, Telephone charger
  • Pocket Knife
  • 1 sheet set, comforter and pillow (all white)
  • 0 Towel
  • Leather Dopp Kit
  • Industrial stapler (still in packaging)
  • Extra staples
  • Allergy Medicine
  • 2 Packs of Mechanical Pencils
  • 0 Paper
  • 0 Backpack
  • 0 Coat
  • The Clothes on His Back
There was also a sample pack of Woolite that I'd slipped in with his bedding.

     "What's this?"

     "Laundry detergent."

     "Oh, I don't use that."

The only thing harder than raising this strong-minded young person is having to say goodbye to him.  I stink at goodbyes and have been dreading this one for 18 years.

On the drive up to Philadelphia we listened to music - Appalachian Spring, Fanfare for a Common Man, and Wachet auf.  I tried to engage David with stories of my own freshman year.  I told him about Marie Claire Alain, the famous French organist who gave a master class for our department.  To clarify her point about the chorale, "Wachet auf", she referred to my friend Gilbert's music score.  The one on which he had written in all capitals, "WACK IT OFF!"   Gilbert and I pressed our knuckles against our mouths, and hoped against hope that her English was not that good.  It's hard to get a laugh out of my son, so I don't mind telling an off color story to achieve my goal. 

It's also hard to make him cry.

Then I told the story of my own moving-out.  It was my 2nd moving out, or maybe my 3rd, but my parents would not let me take my rug - my own faux oriental rug that Elaine had given me. 

     "Why?"  David wanted to know.

     "Because they knew if the rug was gone, that I would be gone."

David and his father adore each other.  They still snuggle together on the sofa and walk arm in arm down the street.  I've been wondering how this separation would go for them.  David spends the car trip giving his very best effort to make his father angry.  Melvin doesn't understand the sneaky technic and keeps snapping at the bait.  David clips his long toenails and fingernails, purposely scattering the leavings all over the car seat.  David wants to stop at Starbucks for a Venti Hot Chocolate, but then he doesn't drink it.  He buys a Roy Rogers bacon cheeseburger at the rest stop, but doesn't open it. 

Do you remember when rest stops were two outhouses, a picnic table, and maybe a pump for water?  No gas station, no Quiznos, no Popeyes, no jewelry, head pillows, sunglasses or Starbucks mugs from all 50 states.  Such crap.  And still I want to buy things for David.  Even though a small fortune is being spent on his college tuition (actually, it is not that small), I still want to buy presents.  Snacks for the dorm.  A stuffed penguin for company.  Something to hang on the wall.  Even sunglasses or a set of headphones would do.  I want to give him things and make him happy.  Thankfully, he saves me from myself by wanting nothing at all.  Except, now and then, to spend a little time with me. 

Around Philadelphia, David starts reviewing the dormitory check-in information.  "In order to obtain your dragon card (necessary for food and housing) students must present valid photo identification."

     "Did you bring your passport?"

     "Nobody told me!"

     "JEESUS, DAVID!!!!"

     "This document is 20 pages long.  They can't expect me to read all of that!"

Parents launch into plans A B C and D of how to get the passport.  Drive back to D.C.?  Fed Ex?  Call his uncle?  Whose Responsibility Is This Anyway?  Send David back by train to solve it himself?  Parents disagree, sparring in the car's close quarters.

     "Why are you two getting so worked up?  It's no big deal."


Upon arrival, David insists on going to the dormitory first, even though it's two hours before his assigned check-in time and we want him to pay his tuition first and find out about the elusive dragon card ID problem.  We drive up to Towers Dormitory - 15 floors of freshmen humanity.  The street is heavily patrolled by security who hand us a yellow parking pass for 20 minutes and instruct us that we must unload in that amount of time or we WILL be ticketed.  David slowly puts on his socks and then his sneakers, which he ties carefully, evening out the shoelace ends.  He goes inside to inquire and shortly comes out with three ID bracelets.  Smiling, he says, "Come on up!"

After installing David's modest belongings in his dorm, we leave him to address the administrative tasks.  Later in the day we call to check in.

     "How's it going?"

     "Great!  I paid my tuition.  They gave me my dragon card."

     "Can we come over and give you a goodbye hug?"

     "Sure!  Duong is here."

When we get to the room, David and Duong are playing a computer game.  Why did I think those things would disappear in college?  Duong is not his roommate, but is from DC.  They  met for the first time one hour ago. 

We visit for a short while, and then I say,

     "Mel and I need to go."

     "OK.  Bye."

     "No.  No.  I want a hug."


6'3" comes over and I get my hug.  Then I scurry out the door so they won't see me teary eyed.

We leave David and Duong - two friends from the old country who have met in the new world.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Italian Night

Here's what we planned:  Dinner at Buca di Beppo, a fun Italian restaurant our teenaged son discovered.  Bocco di Beppo serves "family sized" entrees "family style".  This is perfect.  The adults can have a bottle of wine and the family can choose just one entree for three to share.  My son said Buca di Beppo's cheesecake was the best, so that was part of the plan as well.  After supper Mel and I would walk to a 7:30 movie and David would go home to meet his friend for their endless computer network project.  

My son and I were meeting Mel at the restaurant.  We left five minutes late.  Then we went back home for an unlocked door.  We exited the wrong end of the train and walked the wrong direction for five minutes before walking five more minutes in the correct direction.  Once at the restaurant there was an obligatory "tour", part of the Buca di Beppo experience.  We saw The Pope's Table, The Cardinal's Table, The Kitchen Table and a photo of the world's largest bowl of spaghetti with a man diving into it.

Settling into our table, the family fun begins.  My son wants both baked rigatoni and chicken parmesan.  For an appetizer he wants either bruschetta or garlic cheese bread (I'm allowed to choose).  I remind him about the "family sized portions", diplomatically stating my preference for one entree and one appetizer.  SOMEONE suggests, "We can just bring home whatever we don't eat!"  (The noodles with a dab of riccotta, mozzerella and sauce cost $16.95.)

I resign myself. 

Next on the menu is dinnertime conversation.  My son can transform any bit of friendly chat from debate into a full-fledged argument.  We dabble with various topics - chain restaurants vs. independent restaurants.  We discuss different types of food and learn that "Jewish Food" is not possible because it's a religion and not a country.  Following futile attempts to explain the diaspora, I sputter, "I think we should talk about something else."

The servings of garlic cheese bread, chicken parmesan and baked rigatoni come.  We eat everything in sight, and I am left with double defeat.  My caloric intake has been tipped ominously over the recommended daily allowance, and, worse than that, I was WRONG about the portion sizes.

When the server asks if we would like dessert, my son says,

     "Three cheesecakes, please."

Oh God.

     "No.  No.  Two cheesecakes."

     "I want you to try it.  It's the best cheesecake."

     "I want to try it too, but I just want one little bite."
     "We can take it home!"

     "I don't want to take it home.  In case you haven't noticed, one slice of cheesecake costs $11.45."

All the while I'm holding two TWO fingers up for the server to see.  Back in my day a piece of cheesecake cost 75 cents.  I can't bear that it's $11.45.  My bathroom scale can't bear that a slice of cheesecake weighs one pound.  SOMEONE looks at the server and says,

     "Three cheesecakes."

I hate this family.

I insist the server bring the cake in a box.

The cheesecake arrives.  I try a bite.  It's good.  It's better than the rigatoni and would have been a more satisfying main course.  My son doesn't think it's as good as the last time he had it.  He doesn't think it will taste good the next day.  Melvin says, "I can bring it to work for lunch!"  I forbid him to put it in my kitchen refrigerator.  It must be kept in the one in the basement where I won't mistake it for my morning cereal.  At this point we have a heated discussion about whose refrigerator it is and what rights I do and do not have about its contents.

My son's cell phone rings.  It's his computer date.  He's late for their appointment.  It's now 7:40, ten minutes past when our movie, a 30 minute walk away, begins.  I roll with it gracefully.

     "I wasn't that interested in the movie anyway.  Really I just wanted a nice dinner with you guys and to try this fun restaurant."

We go to the subway together.  When the crowded train arrives, Melvin and I instinctively grab the only two available seats.  One wordless glance from our son conveys:  What am I, chopped liver that I don't get to sit down?  If you really loved me you would not be so selfish and leave me standing in this aisle.

     "Well, you could sit on my lap..."

Immediately, all 6'3" of his loving 18 year old man-self plops into my lap, his arm gently brushing the Wall Street Journal of the man sitting next to us.  My son has a gynourmous head of fluffy red hair.  He is not a person to overlook.  Every passenger of the subway car directs his vision to their books or telephones or shoelaces as my son rests his head on top of mine.  At the next stop some seats become available. 

     "There's a seat behind us.  Would you like one?"

     "No.  I'm perfectly happy right here."

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ellie in Yellow

I remember Ellie in yellow
     hiding behind her mother's dress,
          afraid to come in for her piano lesson.

Now she wears the high heeled shoes of a lady.
     She knows to keep them on for two hours
          and no longer than that.

She knows how to walk with sure steps
     up to the big black piano
          where she plays Beethoven.

Her hair is dark and longer than anyone's,
     and in her trim skirt and yellow blouse
          she gives her music to God and Everybody.