Brush with Life

Winter break is over for a lot of the college students right now, and I remember facing that with dread. But today college is a completely different experience now than it was back in the 80’s when I went. Today students can pick their roommate ahead of time. If it’s not a friend, there’s a website for the colleges that allow you to say things like, “I like coffee, music and butterflies…looking for a roommate with similar interests.” Back in the ‘80’s you couldn’t pick your roommate, it was Russian Roulette. It was terrifying. You couldn’t sleep for months before the first day of college. She could be a sleepwalker, ghost hunter, hoarder, kleptomaniac, regular maniac, loud snorer, you had no idea and no choice. Very scary. But I did luck out with my roommate. I didn’t know her name, where she was from, nothing about her but thankfully she was great and we stayed roommates for four years. Then I was sitting next to her at graduation with our caps and gowns, and they announced her name for valedictorian! My jaw dropped open, she never told any of us!! That’s not something to hide! I would use that as an opener when meeting people! Hi, my name is Barbara and I’m a college valedictorian, what’s your name? I’d be wearing a sash on campus that read “Miss Valedictorian,” legally change my middle name to Valedictorian, and ride in a float every year in the local parade. Couldn’t believe it. Today, college students usually have a bathroom ratio of 2 to 4 students to one private bathroom. We had 60 women to 8 bathroom stalls and 3 showers just on our floor! Can you imagine that kind of torture? We had to wait in a long, pre-coffee, pre-make up, grumpy line in the morning for a shower. I had no idea women looked so different without their make-up until college…like unrecognizably different. Suzie? Is that you? You learned quickly how to take a three-minute shower so that the girl behind you didn’t pull a Norman Bates horror movie shower scene if you took too long. Cell phones were not invented so you shared a few pay phones with 60 other Chatty Kathy’s on your floor. That’s just asking for cat fights, which I had seen take place many times. You spent 4 years scrounging for dimes and quarters to feed the pay phones and washing machines in case you were lucky and one was actually available, since there were 20 washers and dryers in a dorm filled with 300 students. Also, the food was horrible back then, not the multi-station delicious options kids have now in their elaborate cafeterias. It was either mystery meat or an old salad bar every…single….night. But there was a vat of thick, non-spreadable peanut butter with stale, paper thin bread for peanut butter and jelly, and the term jelly is being used optimistically and unrealistically positive here in describing what that blackish-purple substance was. I got food poisoning from the cafeteria my sophomore year and since hardly anybody who stayed on campus had a car, I had to take a cab to the hospital. Since nobody had a car, so you were stranded on campus for months with bad food and no money to walk to a real restaurant. There wasn’t a Starbucks on every corner like most campuses have now, it didn’t exist yet! So you couldn’t even go for a drink to help you muddle through your day. Since they couldn’t screw up eggs they called me smiley at breakfast. I explained it was because I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours since the last breakfast served and I’m just happy to have survived the night again. When your term paper was due, since nobody had printers and laptops weren’t invented yet either, you went to a computer lab with the entire student body and impatiently waited for a computer and printer, so sometimes I wasn’t able to type until 11:30pm at night and the lab closed at midnight. But that was a step up from high school though with the dreaded, archaic typewriter. With typewriters, since it took 2 hours to type one paragraph because of your struggles with the white out for errors, you were committed to that paragraph even if you realized after re-reading it that it was wrong. No automatic computer spell check or sentence structure correction in the 80’s either, you actually had to figure it out yourself! Oh the horror!! I’m sure my experience was better than the generation before, so each generation should feel lucky and blessed to have it better than the one before. Always keep that in mind, things could be worse!! Good luck this spring semester!

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