The parking lot seems endless. It is as if a mountain had been tattooed awkwardly with lines and stains and images of cars in rows. I am 17. This, to the best of my knowledge, is college. High school has thudded , middle school has imploded, elementary has long sutured away. It is an unusually warm day and the sky is exhaust. My 1968 mustang has a cracked engine block, leaking radiator, painted over turn signals, an almost lightning shaped tear in the back seat, a boat horn in the trunk, a bent fender, a gas gauge that does not work making shaking the car the way to guess by slosh how far to go and last of all the passenger window is held up by two bricks and a sprinkler head. It has made it to this first day of class and perhaps that is a good sign.
I arrive to the first class of it all and watch an almost perfect square of neglected mayo rise and fall on the upper lip of an English Professor who laughs a little too loud at his own jokes (as nobody else does..as they are as funny as mold or calculus scantrons). He has a toupee that is clearly sweating as the morning goes on. The ferret /putting green thing is also slowly sliding down his head as he goes over the syllabus. His nose hairs move like a crab emerging from the shell and his sweat circles are soaking deeper and ever wider as he drones on. He tells us that he also teaches at USC, his mayo square a boat in the waves of joy as he chuckles at some joke and glows in his glory within this bit of info. We all look at each other and grin as it feels exciting, empowering even to be in a junior college class taught by this expert who then shouts
“and this is not USC!”
and the air leaves the room, and the cheap lights flicker like a storm has come inside room 234 and the scent of a neighbor’s potato chips feels somehow like a scent of rotten things and a bit of ruin. He has just made it clear that we are not worthy of his surely epic genius and wisdom, of his pearls of wisdom delivered with a food remnant riding the crests on his sweaty upper lip.
I leave this class an hour later unsure of what it all means. I made a teacher in 9th grade take me to Jack in the Box at 14 to give me a last ditch pep talk as I deeply underachieved, I made that other teacher walk in class like a zombie in 11th as she saw the human shadow bro in the back actually was kinda smart by finding my I.Q score in my “permanent record”, I made this other teacher leap out of the shadows at high school graduatiion like a lost bat to tell me to keep writing and now I am being told I failed before writing or saying a single word by a sweaty man in a room on the corner of both a new campus and section of life. It was confusing. I head to my next class feeling the heat beat down and that man mean statement ring endlessly like a snippet of an earworm song cross-bred with something from a bad film.
The next class is an art class. The prof speaks like a woozy happy magician. This is a comfort. He has us draw each other while he changes records on an ancient turntable in the front of class on the top of the hill of the whole campus. A cow pokes its head in. It is a gentle older cow and just seems to want to say a quick moo hello and check out the music as the man puts on a recording of the Moon landing then a jazz drum solo. The cow nods a few times then heads away. The school farm is next door. The school was built in the 40’s for the now shrinking and somewhat obtuse farm. The cow gently bids us adieu with a wagging tail as it turns around and leaves just as the drummer in the old record hits a snare crescendo. Somehow this is all totally absurd and makes complete sense.
The art teacher next has us line up and walk a line crunching across the grass past mysterious aging and paint splattered art lockers and rooms for other art classes that are currently empty, one even seemingly abandoned with birds flying in and out of one open window as we pass. The heat is tempered by large and old shade tree as a mishmash clot of 25 students wend our way on the hilltop. The art teacher tells us to turn left as he runs along the line and it bends along the grass as the 100 degree heat scatters light and shadow below the trees surely planted when the college first opened as a farm insitute. The line bends in a way I do not understand and my classmate looks back at me and chuckles as we are surely in some absurd moment , a drunk derelict dada either purely for the prof’s personal kicks or to kill some time in his day (ten years later while having a donut at art school I will realize he was showing us lines and surface and three dimensions and in motion..but this lies a decade away). We turn and the line goes past another set of those odd old rusty lockers. We pass the art area offices and see through a filthy window our teacher’s antique desk with what appears to be a giant carved wooden owl holding a dozen pens in its talons. Again, somehow this all is absurd and makes some kind of sense.
This is the rest of my life.
We head back into the art classroom and the moving line dissipates again. The oldest classmate is one of a trio of grandmothers taking the class for fun. The youngest is an odd child prodigy who draws perfectly and never says a word. The room seems bigger somehow. The last 20 minutes of class we will introduce ourselves. I have nothing to say, feel the nerves earthquake on up inside again.
Hi. I am Jeremy Hight. I am 17. I don’t know what anything really means or what I am supposed to do with this life. I like bowling and clouds. I hope I don’t fail all this. I don’t want to make a flaming dirigible of a section of time and space again. Please excuse my presence here.
I am thinking this speech but will likely say something about the suburbs here and how art is a good thing amongst it all. The room seems to shrink as it nears my turn.
I leave the art class and wend down the steps back to the rest of the campus noticing that the trees thin as I go until it is just bushes and the sun, benches and one thin high cloud high above. A childhood acquaintance calls out my name as we pass, he was the guy who tried to light a metal bench on fire with a bic lighter when we were kids, he has a criminal record already. As I near my next class I see a high school classmate, she smiles, she got into Harvard but is here to save money. Smart. The temperature is surely well over 100 now. It is 3 in the afternoon. These numbers bring a kind of comfort and order amongst it all.
Biology class is one of the core general eds that have to be taken. My high school Bio teacher had hair like drunk saggy cactus and enjoyed sharing the most obscure facts on the planet as though pulled from a boredom holster on his big belt. He spoke like a slurring robot from a 70’s film but seemed as I drifted into failure to really care, his words after class a kind of rope to the waters but a bit too late. A room just had cadavers, one looked like a lot like my aunt who passed away.
There was that story where a student in a basic course had on her table her aunt. She was not crying or in shock but was more calm and just not able to see her that way and not wanting to be graded on something tied to the sweet person who bought her a bike when her parents were too poor. I think I would be the same.
The next room I pass now has a teacher that I could swear I saw in an odd band over the summer at a club in Hollywood. The guy for the first three songs had a calculator for a head and throw bread into the crowd. He did a bass solo hanging upside down like a bat. So this is the rest of life.
Biology class proves to be in a building farther away, a zit on the elbow of campus if even that. The building has dust and cobwebs in the corners of windows yet the halls are aglow with neon fliers for lectures and discounts on pizza amongst a visual confetti scream of hundreds of others things. The room is at the end of the last hall. The door is open to a yawning mouth of walls and desks. The heat has made this into a room almost to have the very walls sweat and slouch. The prof has a mustache that seems endless, a mobius strip of wild west follicles above his bow tie.
The class has begun. I am late. The man seems to twitch as I sit and he discusses the double helix of DNA with a voice surprisingly loud and almost enthusiastic as the windows seem to droop and a classmate falls asleep on a sweat stained book beside me. We make lego double helix models in groups. The blocks are brilliantly colored. I fail miserably. My group finishes late. The room seems to darken as people leave not brighten. I apologize to my group, people I just met. All but one smile. The other looks at me blank but eerily does not blink, not even once. I leave the class to get some lunch before heading to my part time job pricing nails and sprinkler heads in the back of an old store.
Wait…was that..no…..it was the bio teacher pulling cans out of the trash. The bag he put them in seems nice and well used. He is now putting the bag in his car.
This cafeteria has a piano in the corner. The thing looks a hundred years old. The food trays and metal rails are institutional somehow even with a sandwich, fries and a coke. The piano looks like a sad little dapper man so far from the tables full of students. Maybe it was alive with rollicking sing alongs decades ago and nobody had the heart to remove the poor thing. The ceiling is high and freshly painted yet there are spider webs in a far corner. Maybe somewhere there are bright festive orange bits of web on a breeze, maybe in a cloud somewhere out of this heat. Maybe there is much more beyond here, maybe it connects somehow, maybe, maybe.
This is the rest of my life, at least another section. I had a dream that a guy looked back and the rear view mirror periodically applied locks to things behind and they moved out of view. Another dream was of all atoms growing odd insect wings and all things just blowing out into a noise of things, a swarm and then nothing at all.
At least I have this sandwich. A least this much makes sense right now.