The Worst Thing About Us. And the Best.

On April 16, 2007, my son called me at work to tell me there had been a shooting on the Virginia Tech campus where he was a graduate student. He was at his apartment — safe — and he wanted me to know that before the news came across the Internet. I asked about his girlfriend. “She’s fine, too,” he told me. They were the only two people in the world I knew in Blacksburg.

I am not proud of what I did next. I took a breath. And I was thankful.

For a long time, I let myself off the hook about that. It was human nature. It was what we do in the face of imminent danger to those we love.

But this crazy summer, I no longer give myself a pass. I think my reaction is the worst thing about us.

This summer we’re spending a lot of time talk about our “tribes.” We’re fond of that term. It makes us sound loving, collegial, connected. But increasingly it’s nothing more than code — for the people who look like us and agree with us. The ones on our side.

We’re getting too good at boxing ourselves into social media corners, where we scream about who is right or wrong. Or which lives matter. Or where all the fault lies. We search out the perfect meme that makes our point in the snarkiest or cruelest way, and hit keys that launch it out there to do our speaking for us. We can’t wait to tell people in other “tribes” all the reasons they are wrong.

Because this summer is crazy, I’m resisting that though I’m not always successful. One refuge is that I’m having long email chats with a friend from high school. We mention kids and grandchildren, but it’s mostly politics with us, as it has been since we were in high school. He is a judge and a staunch conservative. I am not.

He promises he won’t quote Milton Friedman, but I can tell he wants to, and he makes me smile as I read. We have been diametrically opposed in every political point that has ever crossed our paths since we met in 1966. And though we went years with no contact while our lives got busy, for fifty years I’ve loved this man, and I know he has loved me. And we’ve done it from across the aisle.

What his friendship brings me is the comforting truth that people who disagree with us are not automatically haters. Good citizens and decent human beings can be on the other side of most arguments though that’s hard to see this summer. And those memes — easy to reach for — only contain a lick of truth half the time anyway.

So I’m searching for moments of clarity these days wherever I can find them. In the library last week, as I walked through the automatic doors and into the lobby, one was waiting. I noticed an old woman leaning against the wall, probably waiting for her ride to pull up. She could have been 85. She could have been 105. She was clearly working hard, using her cane just to stay propped up.

Just at that moment, a librarian left her post behind the counter and was dragging a chair over so the woman could sit. I watched as she gently got her comfortable for her wait.

There was nothing about these two women that signaled they might be part of the same “tribe.” Not their age. Not their race. Not any physical or socioeconomic attribute I could see. For all I know, they’ll get to the voting booth on November 8th and go in opposing directions. It was simply one pure act of kindness, unheralded and often missing in this crazy summer of ours.

And I’m holding it close. Because that’s the best thing about us.

What Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Parents (and Mine) Knew

I came to my obsession with Lin-Manuel Miranda much later than most people. I didn’t discover him until well after tickets to Hamilton had reached mortgage-payment levels. So I tried my best to catch up without actually ever seeing the play. I searched news stories and You Tube videos about him, and – if I do say so myself – I did pretty well at becoming a fan of the first order without, you know, being a complete stalker.

The pieces of his life that struck me most, though, weren’t the obvious. Not the trips to the White House, or the interviews where he told about his dismal days as a DJ at Bar Mitzvahs in Queens, or how his bus driver taught him old-school rap on his long rides to and from school in New York City. It was watching him on the videos his parents had saved of him — holding court — when he was a little boy.

My favorite is when he is about eight years old. He is doing a video book report on The Pushcart War. As narrator, he’s dressed in a little boy suit and tie, reading from copy. He changes into costume several times as the plot progresses. His father is behind the camera, his sister in charge of cue cards. In one extended scene, his mother, his abuela, and his great-grandmother play the parts of striking teachers, marching around the room, holding signs and chanting. Convincingly.

When I was eight, book reports were relegated to pencils and lined paper. But I recall with great clarity, the times I got it into my head that I could sing or dance (usually at the same time) with the likes of Doris Day or Peggy Lee. I would prance down the stairs into the living room, where my parents would already be seated on the couch, waiting for my rendition of a song I’d heard on the radio. Standing ovations every time. It never once occurred to me I was mediocre at best. Never once. That realization came to me much later, slowly, when I had moved on to my next potential occupation. I decided I’d be a writer instead. My parents changed course accordingly.

These days I spend lots of my time with a little boy who’s four. He is partial to acting out Fairy Tales in great detail, with voices and inflection we marvel at. He’s not shy about giving out (or abruptly rescinding) speaking parts to the adults in the room. We’re all thrown into the narrative, whatever it is at that moment. We have no idea if he will still be loving this so much in another year, or if we’ll be riding another train with him by then.

Broadway was a long way off on the day of Lin’s video book report. But everyone in the room knew their parts by heart and played them with relish anyway. They circled around him, holding their props and reciting their lines. And saying — without saying it directly — “This is the most terrific kid ever.”

I turned out to be a pretty pitiful singer and dancer. On the other end of the spectrum, Lin-Manuel Miranda is finding the world crazy in love with his talent. Isn’t it funny, then, that he and I have something in common.  Those moments when you remember their beaming faces, taking a bow, hearing the applause. We both came from a home of standing ovations.

The Neighborhood Bully, 50 Years Later

The first time I heard “Hey, Buzzard!” I was 12, and I knew he was talking to me. With a small crowd around him, Walter  began flapping his arms wildly in the air, and making loud “caw, caw, caw” sounds. His friends were already laughing and didn’t need an explanation, but they got one anyway: “I call her that because she’s so ugly and her nose is so big,” he told them as they moved down the street.

My nose was way ahead of the rest of my face. In fact, my whole body was just one big adolescent disappointment that summer. My hair had the consistency of steel wool and would puff out like a blow fish as soon as the humidity raised half a percent. I was taller than anyone on my block (including a few short adults). I kept forgetting about my feet. I tripped a lot.

Puberty had not come gunning for Walter the way it had for me. He was athletic and blonde, with perfect symmetry to his face. As the kingpin of our neighborhood, whatever he said garnered plenty of nods and laughs. My humiliation — always close to the surface — didn’t faze him. Just the opposite. The few times I cried only fueled him. Twice he spit at me but missed.

I found no “safe spaces” during those summers. Unless it rained, kids played outside all day, and the hand you were dealt was a three-block radius of your house, maybe a total of 50 kids.

At dinner, my parents might say, “So, what did you do today?” but they never wanted to hear the details. There was an unwritten manifesto of all the Massapequa parents I knew: They’d had the foresight to buy a home on bucolic Long Island, a far cry from the mean streets of Manhattan or Queens where they’d come of age. They got points for providing you with trees, good schools, and fresh air. The rest was up to you. You were supposed to have fun in the summer. It was your only job.

As a child, my mother had watched her family struggle through the Great Depression. She was replete with stories about oatmeal. When my grandmother could afford to make some extra in the big pot on top of the stove, she would have my mother take it to the family who lived above them, a trip my mother dreaded. When the woman opened the door, her face would fall and she would sigh. She took it because her kids were hungry, but she couldn’t bring herself to say “Thank you.” Oatmeal was charity and people who worked so hard didn’t take charity.

My mother fought dark feelings most of her life that all our security would be whisked away. Walter meant nothing to her when  — at any moment now — oatmeal might return as a staple.

My father spent most of his childhood in Maine. When his mother died after his third birthday, his father moved away to find work. My father was shuffled among kindly relatives who fed him as long as they could. Theirs was a small enclave of French mill workers who did not speak English. And then when my father was 11, he was sent to the Lower East Side of Manhattan to live with his father, a man he barely knew and a man who refused to speak to my father in French. New father, new city, new language all in one moment. Walter? Don’t be ridiculous.

My parents listened to me, but their usual response — changing the subject — told me that they couldn’t relate. Their message was loving and practical and always the same, but it infuriated me in its simplicity: “Sometimes life is hard. Be a good person. Figure it out.”

A few years ago I was at a funeral back in Massapequa when I saw Walter walk in. He was easy to spot in the crowded room — still handsome, his blonde hair now gray. I’d been privy to what he’d been doing all these years. He has struggled — in a bunch of arenas — maybe the reason he was such a mean kid. He is still not known for kindness in any form. (Sometimes life is hard.)

Watching him, I felt a little vindicated as if someone had been keeping score all this time, and it had just been announced in this room at the funeral home that my totals soared over Walter’s. I realized, though, that I didn’t need to be the winner. And what I was feeling at that moment was a bit of compassion I didn’t see coming. (Be a good person.)

I caught his eye and smiled. He recognized me, and we made small talk about the old neighborhood. If I thought for a moment he remembered his treatment of me when we were kids, I might have brought it up, just to see what his memories were. But it was clear he just wanted to tell me about his business, his kids who play lacrosse, his new car, and his new wife. And maybe it was during that conversation — as my mind wandered — that I finally completed my parents’ advice from so long ago (Figure it out.) Because I remembered that at 12 I didn’t want to treat people the way Walter did. I didn’t want to end up like him.

And I didn’t.

“We’re letting you go.”

I knew my days were numbered as soon as the new org chart came out. It was complicated and confusing, with squiggles and two-sided arrows. It was like a corporate Escher print, and I couldn’t — for the life of me — figure out where I belonged anymore in the company that had been my employer for six years.

“We’re letting you go.”

I love this phrase, don’t you? It made me seem like some sad, caged bird, who was now free to explore the world, thanks to the kindness of the Board of Directors. At least that’s how I tried to hear it.

My laptop was gone by the time my boss and I walked back to my desk. According to company policy, he was supposed to watch me pack up and escort me from the building.

“Really, you don’t have to stand here,” I said, trying to get him off the hook. I felt sorry for him having to bounce me out. “I’ll come by your office when I’m done,” I told him. Then as he walked up the hall, I reached for an economy 12-pack of Post-it Notes and threw it in my purse. It’s been five years since I was fired, and I’m mentioning it here since I’m sure the Statute of Limitations has kicked in. Apparently my new life hasn’t called for Post-it Notes the way I thought it would. I still have 11¾ packs.

By 7:45 I’d signed a letter giving me a generous severance and making me promise not to sue them for firing a person so old she had actually watched the Moon Landing on live TV and remembered Thin Elvis.

By 7:55 my boss and I were standing awkwardly in the parking lot, as he sweetly lifted cartons into my car: all of my framed photos, potted English ivy, my extra pair of winter boots in case it snowed while I was at work, and a pencil holder my son made in 3rd grade.

He said, “You’ll be just fine.” He looked sad. I thought about confessing about the Post-it Notes.

By noon I was almost buoyant. “It was for the best!” “Thank God!” “No more pressure!” “A blessing in disguise!” All me.

I did the usual things a person does after getting fired: I called everyone else who’d also been fired so we could bad mouth the company that didn’t realize how phenomenal we were. I considered careers that seemed like they’d be much more fun than the one I’d been tethered to —Personal chef? Yoga instructor? Restaurant critic? Then I drank a lot of wine and took a nap.

When it was time to get out there and find my next job, I sent out cover letters only to find the silence they received unsettling. So I did what I do in times of uncertainty. I took to the Internet to find 16 diametrically opposed opinions about what I should do next. I found some job counseling companies, loaded with experts who were dying to help.

I gave my credit card number to one of the companies with the words “PLUS” or “PRO” in its title, and three days later, my new résumé was delivered. Was I was concerned I didn’t recognize myself on paper anymore? Yes and no. It was unsettling to read all the things I had expertise in that I really didn’t. But I still thought as long as I could get an interview, I’d shine. Thanks to the fiction team now selling my wares, it would take the CIA to uncover how old I was until I arrived at their doorstep. Then my charm would take over.

I landed three interviews within the next week.

It takes a lot of time to get sparkling for an interview when you’re 61 — this much I learned. You have to project a certain maturity and know-how without letting them find out you’re wearing Easy Spirit pumps. You have to invest in Spanx. You can’t eat a poppy seed bagel for breakfast. It’s a long list.

For my first interview in the marketing department of a local hospital, I had to enter by walking right past the cubicles of the people I’d be working with. As I opened the door, everyone in the room popped their heads up, like those adorable little prairie dogs you see at the zoo. Immediately I watched their shoulders all slump in one communal exhale (sort of a silent “Oh, pulease”).

No, really, I wanted to say, I’m lots of fun! I know who Taylor Swift is! You’ll like me! I smiled and entered their boss’s office where his 15-minute interview was just over the line of perfunctory. It wasn’t worth the ten minutes it took me to get myself wedged into my Spanx.

The next two interviews weren’t any better. At the second one, the person in charge was — just a guess here — nineteen. At the third, I was interviewed by a panel of women my age, which might have held more promise if they hadn’t been Nuns at a women’s Catholic college and the only thing our lives had in common was that we were all wearing black.

I got three responses all in polite, templated email. All three ended with, “Best of luck in your job search.”

I sat at my computer, reading, and realized something I had glossed over before.

The part about being 61.

Good Intentions and Horrible Blunders on a Country Road

It’s hard to tell this story because it sort of breaks my heart. It was 1933, and my mother was five. She and her parents were driving along a country road at the eastern tip of Long Island, long before it was called The Hamptons. Suddenly traffic stopped, and cars began to line up and inch toward what they figured must have been an accident. They crawled along for a few miles, my grandfather running out of patience.

When they got to a fork in the road, they realized that a car had run out of gas just where the two lanes separated, and right there was a black man holding a gas can, his thumb in the air, hoping for a ride. My mother stood up in the back seat and watched car after car in front of them slowly go around the man.

“Stop and pick him up,” my grandmother told my grandfather, exasperated by the behavior of the drivers in front of them. I like this part of the story, of course — my grandmother so ahead of her time. But there’s another part.

As they got close to where the man stood, my grandmother glanced at the back seat next to where my mother was sitting. She took a newspaper from the floor by her feet and handed it to her small daughter.

“Spread this out on the seat next to you,” she told her.

“Why?” my mother wanted to know.

“Diseases.”

My mother did as she was told, and they stopped. The man, jubilant that this would end his humiliation, went to get in. My mother watched him closely. He saw the newspaper. His smile faded. He got in anyway. My mother remembered the sound his body made as he sat down on the paper designed to keep his “diseases” off their car seat. He took off his hat. He thanked them.

My mother told me that story when I was a young teenager, deep into my “Peter Paul and Mary Know the Answers to Everything” years. My reaction was harsh. How could my grandmother — my smart, kind grandmother — ever do such a thing? And why was my mother telling me this story with nothing more than a little frustration, saying, “Well, they did what they could do.” All I could see was that they were just another smack in the face to the black man who’d stood in the hot sun waiting for someone — anyone — to drive him to a gas station.

My mother told the story because all those years later, she still remembered the hurt look on the man’s face, and it haunted her. She told it because she also understood her parents’ actions in a way I refused to. Because the world evolves in fits and starts, brave take-offs and hard landings, good intentions and horrible blunders. She told me the story slowly and quietly because I thought I knew everything about the universe and how it worked. And she knew that wasn’t true.

And now I know it, too.

 

One Year In

My blog is now one year old, and — if anything — I’ve learned that I’m more consistent in getting words out every week than I’ve ever been at finishing all those needlepoint projects that went to die in my closet.

In a year, the blog has garnered 91,387 hits and now has 2,341 subscribers. I have resisted looking into whether that’s good or bad in the big scheme of stats. What I really care about are the comments I get to read from people who take the time to write back. Even after all these years of writing, that thrill has never left me.

My original intent in starting this was to present pieces of the memoir I’ve been writing and see the reaction. Now the book is finished. It’s similar to pushing out a baby and finally getting to see just what the last nine months were really all about. Now begins the process of finding an agent who reads my query letter and smiles and writes back. I like the belief that — even at my age —when we tend too much to look back, there will be a next step that will take my breath away.

I’ll continue to write here, but I’m not sure yet what form it will take. And to the thoughtful, smart, funny people who read “me,” every week (and you know who you are) thanks.

And for any agent who has secretly become a visitor to this page, I’ll be waiting for your call.

 

The Dumpster Fire Dates

So far on this blog, I’ve only mentioned the dates that went awry. One reader, who is also a writer, has told me that my dating years are not quite the literary gold mine I’d been thinking they were. He’s become bored. Others have commented that sometimes these tales make me sound — shall we say — a little uppity.

One more. Just one more, I promise, and then I’ll get on with the rest of the story.

The truth is many dates were magical. I had relationships. With good men. But no one I wanted to live with or marry. There was no second husband at all — ever — waiting in the wings.

But I still think I’m a laugh riot when I get on a roll about the dating years, so indulge me just once more. Here they are, in abbreviated form.

Sam, who, halfway through dinner, started calling me Wendy. I had a panicky moment. I was a pro by now, and I’d entered the restaurant, looked at the man waiting who looked expectant, said, “Sam?” and he said “Yes, hi!” and we began our date, as I’m sure we’d done many times according to the rules of the midlife online dating ritual. The second time he called me Wendy,  I was thinking there might be two Sams at this restaurant and this was the wrong one. But my anxiety was premature. He came back to calling me Linda right before his phone rang. And he took the call. On speaker. For a good ten minutes. From a woman who called him Sammy Baby.

Pete, who never took a breath. He would look like he was going to take a breath and give me a hint that maybe I should speak. But then he’d tap himself on the side of his head and say, “Let’s see. Let’s see, let’s see, what else can I tell you about myself?”

Charles and Tom, who spent most of our dates spewing venom about their ex-wives and letting me know all about their screaming fights and standing their ground in front of cars in driveways and protective orders. These men needed a dating coach. I actually excused myself to the ladies room during one of them, hightailed it to the parking lot and left before he could get my license plate number.  He seemed like the type of person who wrote down license plate numbers.

Larry, who got to the restaurant ahead of me on our first date, and had the hostess place a bouquet of flowers on our table. A large, expensive, Queen of England bouquet of flowers. He had great hopes for it going well apparently. He led off with a story about how his sister died of kidney disease because his father had refused to be a donor. (Now that’s a story that makes you hope you’re invited to Sunday dinner soon.) As we parted ways after dessert he asked, “How about going out this weekend?” When I said I didn’t think so, he looked at the flowers and said, “Shit, what a waste of $75.” I wished he’d taken them back because for two days I looked at them and all I could think about was his sister.

Henry, who emailed me after our dinner. It began, “I hope you won’t be offended by this,” at which point you know you’re about to be offended. “I don’t see it in the cards for us. I’m still thinking I can get a woman who will look bangin’ in a thong.”

There was John, who still lived with his mother, and slept in the bedroom where he achieved puberty.

Then there was George, who still lived with his wife.

And Ian, who apologized for leaving his wallet at home. Twice.

And when I list all those dates in one place like this, I think maybe I’m descended from Pilgrims even though my name is not Alden or Standish. I think I must have come from people who spent months sodden, starving, and all full of Scurvy, wending their way across the ocean on a leaky wooden boat. Between lung-crushing coughs, they said things like, “Hoist the sails! Give thanks!” Tomorrow will be better!”

I sat down at every date, thinking the man across from me might be The One. Or as my ancestors probably said, “I’m sure we’ll see land any day now!”

A Date with Nathan and the Elephants

Nathan was the first date I’d had in 26 years. Based on his emails, I was pretty sure it would be magical. He was brilliant and literary. He’d gone to Harvard and worked — in a somewhat vague capacity — for a think tank in Washington, DC. I pictured him spending his days lounging with other think-tanky people on leather chairs in some opulent office on Massachusetts Avenue. From what I could glean, he doled out advice for less-smart people somewhere, and that was plenty good enough for me.

His emails contained perfect spelling, and this seemed important to me, as if bad spelling were a character defect I wanted to avoid in a man. His messages were didactic in spots, but then he would write, “I really like fun. I want to be part of a fun couple.” I sent him my telephone number. He called when he said he would. We talked for a while. He didn’t seem like a serial killer.

“Shall we meet at the zoo then next weekend? That might be worth a giggle,” he said.

I shuttled to the back of my head a few red flags that had surfaced during the call. For a man who’d grown up in Michigan, he had quite a British accent going for himself. I could tell he didn’t think I was funny. And I am funny.

I was game. “Baltimore Zoo or Washington Zoo?” I asked.

Was that a snicker? I believe it was. Nathan was clear he didn’t actually ever leave Washington, which he called The District. He suggested we meet at the Elephant House, and added, “It’s the National Zoo.” But he wasn’t finished. “And, by the way, the name of yours is the Maryland Zoo,” he added, just so I’d know I got both zoo names wrong.

Traffic was horrible, and then I missed the exit for Connecticut Avenue. I was almost 45 minutes late. I didn’t want him to think I’d ditched him, so I ran for the Elephant House as soon as I parked.

There he was, at the entrance of the smelly building, jacket slung over his shoulder. Black hair, very tall. Eyebrows that had merged together to form one serious, knitted line, probably years ago.

“So have you ever been to our zoo?”

I hadn’t.

“How about our Smiths? Our Hirshhorn? Our Corcoran?”

We kept walking, and Nathan kept talking and taking credit for Pierre L’Enfant’s life work. The history of the zoo, the pandas by name. He knew a lot about the llamas, too, which didn’t surprise me. He was like the Chamber of Commerce with a unibrow.

Nathan had planned ahead — lunch at a restaurant within walking distance after we’d seen everything the zoo could teach me. My feet hurt in my ill-advised shoes. He’d chosen a place known for its wine list, which sounded like a great idea at this point. But it also felt like we were walking to Philadelphia.

When we finally got to lunch, the mere act of sitting down felt glorious. Especially since I knew there would be a glass of something earthy, with mellow tannins and a strong finish on its way. For the last five blocks, Nathan had been talking about his wine collection. I had no idea what tannins were but I was in favor of them floating down my throat. Soon.

As soon as the waiter passed out menus, my first-date jitters arrived. I like to stay ahead of worries, so I was already nervous about how the whole paying-the-bill thing would play out. I’d brought lots of cash, in all denominations, covering my bases. I knew most men were now comfortable splitting the bill, so I came prepared. If the bill had come to $350, I was still prepared, so I probably had nothing to worry about.

“What are you thinking about having?” Nathan asked, peering at the wine list. He was asking about my food choice, I knew, because I’d come clean I knew nothing about wine in bottles (although I was hardly a neophyte when it came to wine in boxes, my little joke that had dropped dead on arrival).

“I was thinking of the chicken and pasta.”

More looking at the wine list. More eyebrow. When the waiter came back with his pencil poised, Nathan seemed pleased that the waiter answered, “Excellent choice!”

It seemed like a lot of work just to get buzzed after a long day at the zoo.

Then Nathan leaned over the table and touched the top of my hand. It was the first physical contact beyond the awkward introductory hug we’d shared hours before at the Elephant House.

“So, Linda. . .”

A pause followed. It seemed to last a week.

“I have just ordered an expensive bottle of wine, and I will pay for lunch.” (Another pause almost as long as the first one.)

“But I don’t expect you to sleep with me on our first date.”

On my way home, as I exited Nathan’s Capital Beltway and Baltimore came into view, I was wondering how I was going to tell him. I thought, “Nathan, Nathan, Nathan. Not enough grapes in the Napa Valley for that to happen” was much too harsh.

This would be the first time — but hardly the last — that rehearsing exit lines would be a total waste of time.

It was a new world. Men appeared as words on a screen. They disappeared with no follow-up email, on their quest to be part of a fun couple. Which, clearly, I wasn’t ready for.

[Up Next Week: A Date with Ben and his Hair]

Freshman Year in College. What could go wrong?

After I was all moved into my college dorm, my parents took me out to eat before they braved the five-hour trip back to Long Island. My father made a little speech that I thought contained too much advice I wouldn’t need. Then they got in their station wagon, and I waved to them from the sidewalk. I was on my own, a college freshman, negotiating through one of the most turbulent years in American history — 1968. What could go wrong?

Once all the college orientation exercises were over — after we’d been on campus a few days — classes started. I was afraid that might happen.

Let’s be clear. I wasn’t against learning. I simply had other priorities, and there were just so many hours in a day. I seemed to be driving young men crazy, a new phenomenon for me. The more I attracted attention, the better I got at it. It was almost mathematical. Or — to put it another way — I probably would have been picked first or second in Square Dancing if such a thing existed in college. Definitely in the top five.

Although Cortland was still steeped in traditions like fraternities and panty raids, the undercurrent of social change was undeniable. I first noticed it inside the classroom.  I’m sure my parents thought they could count on strict rules about attendance and grading in exchange for the tuition money they were shelling out. But the old rules weren’t resonating with younger teachers who were walking into class, their hands in their pockets and humming Dylan tunes.

One of them, a young man who taught English 101, would come in late and sit cross-legged on his desk and say, “So, what do you guys want to talk about today?” The answer was hardly ever subject-verb agreement.

Another started the semester like this: “I don’t believe in taking attendance.” Now this was a system I could work with.

Unfortunately, these same professors who seemed so cool still believed in midterms and finals. And in November, when that first exam loomed, I discovered it was much harder to absorb 250 pages of text in one sitting than I thought. I cracked the virginal binding of my Sociology book at 11 PM the night before my 9 AM exam. Within an hour, I was erupting in sobs.

My roommate, Randi, heard me — perhaps the reason I chose space in the hall, right outside our room. She padded out in her bathrobe and fuzzy slippers. She was taking the same course with the same professor but had chosen a different route early in the semester. At first her attention to detail had annoyed me.

After dinner, she’d say things like, “See you later. I’m going to the library.” Sometimes she actually used the word homework, and I’d want to shake some sense into her.

“Come on,” I’d think, as if she were a little sister who didn’t know any better. “We’re in college. There is no homework in college.”

This night made it Randi’s turn to talk. She sat down in one of the lounge chairs.

“I have outlines,” she said softly. They’ll help us. Don’t cry.”

And 47 years later I can see her fuzzy pink slippers.  And hear her say, “Okay, so let’s start with an independent variable…”