Those days of lore
July 19, 1983
In writing to my cousin the other day, I found myself missing some of the details of my early life in college.
After flying back from South Carolina in early August, 1979, I discovered something significant had changed in my life.
I still can pin down what it was.
But it felt similar to one I felt a decade earlier when I first met Louise in the printing factory and my falling in love. The sequence of events that followed changed me fundamentally, with each carving out the character I would become: The army, my time on the run from the police, my return home to face my crime, and then my marriage and almost instantaneous breakup with Louise.
I woke up and was different.
I spent most of the 1970s mourning her loss, while locked into a cycle of labor Karl Marx could easily describe as wage slavery.
Perhaps I felt a little like Marx at his expulsion from France, when I was fired from two jobs in 1978 and spent most of 1979 collecting unemployment.
As unemployment benefits ran out, the world around me changed, too.
The Passaic apartment building had served me and my friends as a kind of artist colony during the 1970s, largely because it was owned by Garrickís aunt, who charged so little we could all afford fringe jobs.
In 1979, the woman sold the building and each of my friends Ė now all just turning 30 Ė scattered to other parts of the state to pick up real lives, leaving me the last hold out here.
Loneliness was one reason I decided to pursue college.
I knew I would never find the same caliber of friends working on loading docks. But maybe I could in college.
Even though I hadnít yet turned 30, I also felt old, and wanted some romance in my life.
Then, of course, I wanted to expand my writing.
But subjecting myself again to the humiliation of a class room was no easy task. I had not tolerated bad teachers in high school, and expected to be equally challenged when I made my way through paths of college.
I didnít yet know that school can damage a writer as much as help, nor could I have predicted some of the events that would later haunt our classmates.
Weeks prior to attending my first class, I helped my cousin move to South Carolina. By the time I got back to Passaic, Pauly and my other friends had were gone and I felt strangely alone the way I felt when I walked the streets of LA with Louise years before, as if wandering through a new and alien landscape.
My friends didnít abandon me. We just couldnít see each other as frequently as we did when all we had to do was open the door and shout.
Pauly, of course, saw no point in my returning to college, telling me I could get all I needed out of the local library.
He was never one for formalities and when he was younger walked out of art school after discovering his professors were full of shit.
Once I started attending classes, my loneliness got worse.
I wandered through a world where I was separated by age and by experience. Most of these kids had come there straight from high school. The only thing we all had in common was our confusion. I didnít know at the time that things would get better and worse.
I walked around like a ghost, not quite believing who or where I was.
One professor described my condition as ďrole distance.Ē
Professors in those early weeks seemed godlike to me. Later they would shrink to more ordinary size, and for a time, would even seem pathetic.
I guess I expected the movie version of college, full of youthful pranks and serious study, devoid of the human problems I had faced in the real world when I was working.
Time taught me that Pauly was right, although I did inherit a new group of friends that became part of my personal mythology.
College was simply a place to pass through on our way to some other place. Since I hadnít a clue as to where I wanted to go, I lingered and grew disappointed and eventually wandered back to the real world and a job.
I did meet someone to love, and fell out of love nearly as quickly, feeling the same pangs I had felt when losing Louise a decade earlier.
In some ways, I was worse off than when I started.
When working in the 1970s, I felt trapped in my own life but only had a vague clue as to why. Now I know why, but Iím still trapped, and the letter to my cousin only reminded me of the fact.