Not too far out off of overly mapped highways from the unfashionable side of a state that’s shaped like a glove on a planet three rocks from a bright yellow sun lies a small haven of liberal tendencies, excruciating living costs and broken dreams.
Not much bigger than a few city blocks moving in any of the four cardinal directions, the campus of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor is built primitively into a city with streets and windows plastered with flyers preaching “Our Neighborhood – A Work in Progress,” as if to apologize for the trash and construction congesting the cement.
The apartment was buried under an all too old house, in an all too old neighborhood. It was not the kind of old that makes one smile like a grandfather with a thick mustache and flannel, but the kind of old that wrinkles the nose like the smell of stale beer. Aside from his roommate, the apartment was built for only one person; the dungeon-esque walls were wooded, and at parts even appeared to have once held chains or torturous devices not seen since the final episode of the too short-lived “You Can’t Do That on Television.”
Someday the apartment will be meant for someone else. Someone out elsewhere, someone preparing to leave home now, kissing their parents and high school goodbye with the same puckered lips mouthed to the air before a bright red Volkswagen Eurovan scoots down the road.
And into the great unknown. Or the grate unknown, as the freedoms of college are often more prison-ous than the constrictions of high school.
By now, the New Students for whom this edition tolls will have been run through the three-day trials of orientation. A smattered collection of events best observed from a bed in an over-heated, under air-conditioned dorm room invariably no closer to the pavement than the fourth floor. After all, the University doesn’t need to kiss up to you anymore; they already have taken you for a non-refundable matriculation fee by this point.
Your conversations at orientation were decidedly dull. You waxed like high school was a big deal and talked about the Ivy League schools you applied to, well didn’t apply to, but you wanted everyone to think you applied to them so that they (the orientation folks) would think you are some kind of big shot. “My 730 Verbal was a bit lower than I expected, but I made up for it with a surprising 750 on the Math portion. My parents wanted me to apply to Yale as well, but I laughed because I was really only interested in Harvard if I was going to stay on the East Coast,” you paused, watching the impressed faces of those around you. “And then when I got accepted,” a girl gasps, she surely craves you now, you could smell it, you were almost there. “They just didn’t come through with a strong enough package, so I came here, to the Harvard of the Midwest,” you point at your t-shirt non-chalantly, the blue t-shirt you just stole that phrase from.
The blue t-shirt that was on the 2-for-$15-rack at Steve and Barry’s, the rack that when you were looking at it, you actually had to ask if that meant you had to buy two of them to get them for the total of $15, or if that meant each one was, well, how much was each one Mr. 750 Math? Yes good, $7.50 plus tax.
Was that Harvard, Kentucky?
And from orientation to now you’ve been so excited. Ann Arbor, Michigan suddenly feels more like home than your own bedroom because somewhere inside your brain, a coping mechanism triggered and reminded you that you’re only going home for the holidays so you better start thinking about somewhere else as home Mr. Mousekewitz.
The orientation boastings wear off soon enough, and those lucky or unlucky enough to see their ‘orientation chums’ throughout the rest of their college career will notice the changes, the age lines, the extra 15 pounds, the stress and stretch marks, the beer bellies and when you look at Bradford (whose name you barely remember) from orientation and see that he’s put on a pair of kindergartners in beer weight, you’ll look at yourself in the mirror and believe you haven’t changed a bit.
I’ll leave it to your parents to tell you how you really look.
Classes will resume and you will see that the workload is basically the same as in high school. It’s just the amount of opportunities for procrastinating will have increased exponentially. You will welcome the chance to procrastinate. And you will waste tons of time, probably in an alcohol or drug-induced haze. Hopefully in an alcohol or drug-induced haze. This is college, not the real world.
When you decide to go to class, you will probably sleep, and then regret going in the first place because in addition to being miserably uncomfortable to sleep in, University lecture hall chairs are awful for sleeping.
Then if you do manage to stay awake in class, it becomes a whole new host of problems. We have professors who like the sound of their own voices; GSIs, students with not only diarrhea of the mouth, but leakage of some of the dumbest in-class questions imaginable, the list could go on and on, with specifics and names and faces and gruesome details. But my picture is printed above these words, and my grades don’t need any other odds stacked against them.
Thank God for the ability to transfer. Some of you will. I don’t have the numbers here, my fact-checker is on vacation for the week, but many of you will transfer and a lot more of you will flunk out, drop out, fall in love, get married, get pregnant, get abortions, get jobs and a few of you will graduate, and even fewer will look back on this whole experience fondly. And to my future brethren, the English majors of the incoming class, prepare yourself for the world of waiting tables or working in a smarmy bookstore, because if you don’t want to teach, you will be joining me when I ask, “May I offer you two an appetizer tonight?”
– Luke Smith is a regular columnist in The Daily, although right now he doesn’t know where his columns will appear in the Fall. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.