I am going back to school . . . again. College has been an ongoing project for me for . . . well, a long time. I have started and stopped on a few occasions. Recently I decided to start again and today I was on the campus of our local university navigating the paperwork maze that is registration.
I am registered for classes, but because I am majoring in a liberal art (history) I needed to declare a minor. I was armed with the appropriate form and I found myself in the hallowed halls doing the “bifocal squint” at the office directory on the wall and wondering where all these children came from.
They were everywhere. I assumed that a junior high school was having a field trip to the college. They jostled and bumped me while I was trying to bring the directory near the elevator into focus. I was about to ask one of them where their chaperones were when I noticed he was carrying a Western Civilization textbook. I recognized it from the course I took back when western civilization was about 25 years younger. It was thinner then. I guess it has been updated.
I looked at another child. English literature books. Hmmmmmm. No way these youngsters could be in college. Who lets 12 year olds into college? The can’t all be Doogie Howser. One young man was admiring his friend’s “Rage Against the Machine” t-shirt. He approvingly called it “Retro.” Oh Good Lord.
I looked a little closer, oblivious to the fact that I was now staring at kids. Maybe they were a little older than junior high. Maybe. I looked again. OK, I was wrong. They had to be older because nobody with even the least amount of parental control held over them would be allowed to leave the house dressed as they were. My bad.
I stopped squinting at teenagers and got on the elevator. Two young men got on with me. I assume they were horticulture majors. Maybe they were culinary arts students. I made assumptions based on the earthy, herbal smell that wafted over me from them. Oregano? No . . . thyme? Not quite . . . Maybe rosemary? Whatever it was I remember that the concession stand at the Snoop Dogg concert seemed to be using a lot of it because the smell was everywhere. Whatever courses the boys were taking, they were obviously pleased based on the giggles and chortles coming out of them. They were eating pork rinds out of a big bag. Wow, those looked really good all of a sudden.
At the next floor a young lady got on. I immediately stepped out to help her look for the rest of her clothes. I looked around. No sign of them. I was halfway on and halfway off the elevator. The door started to close on me. She didn’t seem worried about her lost clothes so I stepped back in. It dawned on me that her half-shirt pulled to expose one shoulder and very tight jeans with more holes than OJ’s alibi were actually an ensemble. No way the holes in her shirt and jeans were from wear, they were on purpose. I tried to exude parental disapproval. There is no way she will meet a nice boy wearing that.
She smiled at the two horticulturists and they stopped giggling. They seemed to appreciate the fashion statement. I wasn’t getting a statement of “attractive” or “sexy”. I was getting the statement, “I need a sweater and lunch money.” I mean really. There are holes in your clothes, you don’t have a coat and we live in Alaska, I thought. Just how do you explain frostbite on THAT?
I technically started my college career in 1984 when I took some courses at the Air Base in Japan where I was stationed. I followed that up with a course in 1988 and then I pretty much put the college thing on the back burner. I was busy being 20 something and raising a son and lots of other things that were more interesting.
Then a couple of things happened. 1. I married into an educated family. 2. My son got close to high school. My wife, her parents and her siblings all have post-graduate degrees. Generally my mother-in-law’s extended family are all college educated. Never, at any time, was my lack of a bachelor’s degree held against me. I wanted a college education badly when I got out of high school and being around people who valued education brought those feelings back. With my son approaching the time to consider college, I figured I should set a good college example.
My wife was my fiance when I really started school in 2002. We had been discussing college one evening and sat down to dinner. My fiance told me that if I really wanted to go to school, I should apply at the university. Between the two of us, she reasoned, we could afford for me to take a few classes.
“That isn’t necessary,” I said between bites of pasta. “I don’t have to pay for school.”
“I beg your pardon?” she said.
“Yeah. I don’t have to pay for school. I am on active duty,” I explained. “They pay for school. Pass the bread please.”
“So school is free, but you aren’t in college?”
The bread got passed. After a few moments I realized that she wasn’t talking so much anymore. I looked up.
“They pay for everything?” she asked.
“Well not books.” I didn’t like the way she was looking at me. “But all the tuition.”
My wife is an attorney and she gets monthly reminders of how much college and law school cost. “School is free?” she asked again.
“Well, I’ve been kinda busy . . . ” I said weakly. The next day I applied to the university. I carried 12 credits a semester until 2005 when Charlie was born. School went on the back burner while we raised an infant. I was ready to go back when Eli was born. Now the time is right and today I found myself between a clothing challenged child and two horticulture majors with the munchies.
I looked around as the elevator stopped again. Bill and Ted got off the elevator. The door closed. I smiled at the young lady. She sort of smiled and moved to the far corner of the compartment. Great. Now I was officially the creepy old guy at college. My day was complete. I got off at the next floor. She started to get off then stayed on the elevator.
I found the department for my minor. Theoretically I would find the professors for this subject in this department. This all depends on “office hours.” Office hours are the times that professors are supposed to be in their offices and available to creepy older students who need to declare a minor. Or not. I stood in the hallway and looked around. Nobody. Not even a receptionist.
I cleared my throat. This is the international common signal for assistance. Where ever you are, if you clear your throat it means that you would like somebody employed here to help you. Nothing. Cleared louder. Still nothing. A quick sweep of the area showed no signs of human habitation.
I put down my papers and took off my jacket. I went to the men’s room and came back. A young man was looking around and clearing his throat. He looked at me as I approached and seemed relieved.
“Finally,” he said with frustration. “Could you sign this for me?” He pushed a form at me. “I really need to get this to the registrar.” So the old guy must be a professor. He couldn’t be a fellow student, right. Profiling is wrong.
I looked at the paper. It was a form for changing his major. He was changing to English. I have been in that department. They have a receptionist that comes to work and regular office hours there. He will like it there.
“Have you thought this through?” I said and gave him my concerned look.
“Yes,” he answered. “I really want to write . . . I feel like I can make a difference . . .”
“Great. Good luck.” He left to follow his dreams.
I sat down and waited. Eventually somebody came back and my form was signed. As I walked toward the registrar’s office I wondered what the penalty for falsifying a document or forgery was. I started to get nervous for a second and then relaxed. I didn’t really forge anything. If anybody looked closely enough at the signature they wouldn’t find a professor’s name. Unless of course the university has hired “Old Guy” since this morning.
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