Friday, March 19, 2010

Freshman Year

I may have worn velour turtlenecks and Cuban-heeled boots, and consequently been perceived as sexually ambiguous, but I was still a pretty unimaginative 18-year-old. While others went away to college, I continued to live at home. My decision had to do in large part with the fact that my first girlfriend (whom I intended to marry, as I couldn’t envision another girl ever agreeing to go out with me) staying put. Even worse than remaining at home, I signed up for Air Force ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps), to: follow in the footsteps of uncle Bunny (a Lt. Colonel), impress my future father-in-law (my first girlfriend’s dad was also a colonel), and ensure that when I went to Viet Nam, it would be as an officer rather than as someone more likely to be shot at).

My being in ROTC meant that I had to keep my hair short, thought I was dying to become the Semitic Brian Jones, wear my uniform to school every Tuesday, and salute anyone who outranked me (and no one didn’t outrank me) when I encountered him (ROTC was a no-gurls club) on campus. That wasn’t very embarrassing, and American pizza isn’t usually round.

What a very alienating experience that first year was, especially for one prone to find most experiences alienating. Classes for freshmen were generally held in big auditoriums, where you’d be surrounded by 150 others like yourself listening to some poor untenured schnook at the bottom of the academic food chain drone at you boredly. You never heard a fellow student’s name; our instructors wouldn’t have recognized us if they’d found us in the trunks of their Volvos.

I had declared myself a psychology major, my intention having been to become a psychotherapist. It seemed to me that you didn’t have to be Mr. or Ms. Mental Health yourself to help others in emotional pain, and I was clearly right, as witness HBO’s glorious In Treatment series. But one semester of physiological psychology scared me away — too much…science! — and I switched to sociology, which wasn’t especially sexy, but interested me.

The only class I enjoyed was English, even though the instructor — not even an associate professor, but a graduate student, Mr. Ferretface — clearly envied my brilliance as a writer, and kept giving me B-pluses on everything, such as my brilliant analysis of the difference between Mickey Spillane's and Ian Fleming's writing about food. Or maybe it was because I wasn’t the hotshot Santa Monica High School’s Mrs. Viola Cool had led me to imagine I was.

A pretty girl of the sort I wouldn’t have dreamed of approaching — an actual sorority girl with shampoo commercial hair — sat down beside me the first day of class, and never left. I hadn’t attended a single fraternity party for fear of being made to feel as I had back in junior high school, when I felt at all times as though wearing, saying, thinking, or doing something very different from than that which the cool kids were wearing, saying, thinking, or doing. I gently rebuffed her advances (while of course encouraging them) in a rare display of fealty to my existing, uh, relationship.

After class, I just headed home, especially on days when some pompous little dickhead was apt to step in front of me expecting to be saluted, but occasionally I lingered on the outdoor free speech area adjacent to the Student Union building, and there listened to fellow students and others aggrieved rant about racism, abortion, and other topics that struck a callow freshman from not far away as terribly spicy.

Summer took forever arriving, and when it finally did arrive it might have been the worst in history for locals with pollen allergies; I don’t think I went longer than five minutes without sneezing, explosively. I nonetheless managed to let my hair grow long (for the time), and to reconcile myself to the realization that the United States Air Force would probably be far better off without me.


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