Day 431, August 30, 2021

Pocket Lint

There is an incipient energy on campus with the sudden influx of students moving into the dorms over the weekend and into the next few days. There are still some parents walking around campus in the timid fog of separation. There are first year students, international students, second year students who have never set foot on campus before, who stop suddenly in the middle of a pedestrian path to reorient themselves on their phone as they map out their classes, the library, the Blue Wall, the dining commons. 

There are clumps of teens who all seem to shop in the same stores and wear subtle variations of the same attire. They move together sipping the same drinks or wearing the same kinds of masks. There are rebellious youngsters wearing far too little clothing to be inside in an air conditioned environment. And there are groups of Asian students roving the grounds with all manner of unruly hair styles that make my own unkempt mane seem tame.

And for the most part, they all seem incredibly young. And innocent. And I feel surprisingly old, and identifiably so, like they smile at me, and then realize I am an old person… almost as old as Jay-Z, which means I am almost historical. I wear dress shoes and slacks with a belt. I haven’t even begun to wear a tie yet, I save that for the first day of classes.

I wonder if I am passing students I have Zoomed with, students who were in my class, students who have petitioned me with their sad stories for a late withdrawal or the chance to take extra credits. 

I have to resist the temptation to stop at every lost looking student and ask, “Do you need help finding something?” They would brush me off anyway, and say, “No, I’m fine.” That’s what I would have done. I want to stop each student that looks awkward and like they are trying to fit into too small a sock, and say, “It will be ok. It gets better.” But I don’t, I only have enough time to walk across campus for lunch. I need to get back for my one o’clock. 

There are also the students who look so sure of themselves. I wonder how they came out that way. Faces of such purity and wonder… not yet damaged by the world. How beautiful and amazing that must be.

This weekend, we saw a man collapse at a restaurant. He was eating outside at a table, and then suddenly he was not. People rushed around him, and someone called for a doctor. Eventually a fire engine and ambulance came, and they connected him to machines. He looked pale, wan. He looked like he had seen a ghost, or ingested too much marijuana, or maybe gave too much blood that afternoon. But after the ambulance left, the man was still there. He rejoined his table and they finished their meal because, well, what else was there to do? They finished their meal and tipped the waitress and went home.

I hope I do not expire eating a mediocre meal. 

The students are all at beginnings. All kinds of new things are about to happen. I don’t think I would want to be that age again, to feel emotions so viscerally. I was so tormented when a girl I liked and danced with, decided we couldn’t date because her roommates didn’t approve of me. I was one of a small handful of Asian kids. I went on a small bender that scared my roommate. 

And then other things happened, I got picked up by a senior at a party. She stuck her hands in my pockets and made me jump while I was trying to play pool. That had never happened before.

I wouldn’t want to be that age again, but it is fun to remember and imagine, and to see the tropes of one’s youth, one’s late childhood, playing themselves out again. Even in the midst of a pandemic, a climate crisis, a changed world these things exist again. I wonder what movements the students will adopt, what they will march for, and what will make them angry or moved to action. It feels good at that age to be moved to action. There is less need to be cynical. 

Do you remember the first time you ate okra? Ate from a pig roasted on a fire? Watched a woman serenade a man through a dorm room window with her cello, then pass the cello through the same window into his room and then climb in after? Do you remember when you first smoked pocket lint?

And the year is just days away from beginning.


Take care and be well,

Leo

A cicada pressed into the concrete sidewalk like a fossil.


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