My mission: reach them.
Back at university classes after the 1984 Labor Day weekend, the journal notes that on Wednesday, Sept. 5:
“I headed for the [English-Philosophy] Building and, approaching it, saw how close the ‘cathedral’ I had been seeing in the distance really was, I think. If the weather’s fine today, I may walk to it. The fascination I’ve had with it, and the secret joy I have in anticipation of reaching it, have stayed with me.”
Curiosity, fascination, anticipation, secret joy—how are these things not about finding one’s way home again?
Her name was Yolanda.
No, no … not Ms. Dazzling Wonderful Eyes—the lovely bartender at The Crow’s Nest. Learning her name was still on my to-do list.
Eight days after new roommate Bud and I had our awe-inspiring walk around the Pop-Up Amusement Park, I met Yolanda, who lived on our floor at Mayflower Hall.
On Monday, Sept. 10, 1984, Yolanda and I got to talking and, well, we…
“…went up to the first International Writing Program seminar/panel in Van Allen Hall, which, of the panel members, included a spritely Paul Engle and a slightly Voltairian Marvin Bell. I felt the evening was charming. Yolanda and I got a good giggle out of the some of the comments, both from the audience and the panel. After the discussion ended, sometime before 9:30, Yolanda and I went downtown for a drink at Mickey’s Bar—but I had no money, so she picked it up for the both of us this time around. We talked about our backgrounds and interests. She’s from a large (the youngest, actually) Italian family in Brooklyn. She related all the terrors and elations of Manhattan. She is a simple-looking girl of twenty years, with a bit of a sharp face, high cheekbones, pointed nose, and shoulder-length brunette hair. She sometimes rolls her eyes when she speaks. She is an English major, and well acquainted with many writers—Hemingway, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Stein. We talked about sex, Woody Allen, my notebook (I talked about my notebook) as well as my trip to Britain. We got in before midnight last night. We’ll have to do it again.”
Our talking about “my notebook” meant we talked about the 1984 National 43-571 journal (at left) I’d brought with me to Iowa. If it wasn’t for that journal I would’ve probably forgotten all about Yolanda. Which is a shame, because I think we were kindred spirits.
After meeting up with her again for lunch at Burge Hall, we took in a screening of the film On The Beach at the Iowa City public library that Wednesday night.
We then went out for drinks after the movie. I probably suggested The Crow’s Nest, because that’s where we went:
“[Yolanda] had a Heineken and I had three or four glasses of stout. Our conversation was halting at first, subtle jabs and jokes, double entendres…I was tired and I think she was too. The dazzling brunette/blonde was there last night, but she didn’t seem to be working. She had a Miller Lite and a cigarette and stood by the bar, talking with a girl who was our bartender. When Yolanda and I prepared to leave, we said goodbye to the bartender and the blonde seemed to acknowledge me carefully with her eyes. It was a nice feeling. …We walked back to Mayflower and I started babbling about philosophy and pronunciation and vocabulary; Yolanda wanted me to shut up, I think; I felt a little cheesed off at the whole discussion, or lack thereof, and tiredness, then she wanted to show me her favorite place in the park down by the river, where she goes alone to sit among the rocks. We sat there close together, cuddling, watching the water and saying little, kissing gently, touching. It was nice to be with someone perfectly willing to just enjoy the moment simply on its own merit: here and now.”
Nineteen days on the ground in Iowa City and … Let There Be Smashmouth!
But what did I mean by Ms. Dazzling Wonderful Eyes “acknowledged me carefully” and it being “a nice feeling”? What was going on with the walk back to the dorm, with my “babbling” and feelings of being “cheesed off”? And what was Yolanda thinking before we started making out down by the river?
I was in college, right? So I must’ve taken some classes, I mean, outside of all the bar-hopping, nightclubbing, and riverside make-out sessions.
Well, yes, I did: Geology, Rhetoric 101, Beginning French, and Logic & Formal Reasoning that fall semester.
But just over two weeks into classes, I wasn’t sure I could make it. On Tuesday, Sept. 11, the journal admits:
“I’m exhausted, a bit discouraged and a little downhearted tonight. It seems like I’ve been working hard at school and the first grades I’ve been getting back are not satisfying, yet nor are they dismal. I think it may be a sign for me to work even harder. …I should expect to be a little rusty at scholarship, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of egotism and lethargy. I want to make it work for me, this time.”
Hmm. Egotism and lethargy—seems I’d been there before. Still, six days before that revelation, I’d finally reached those gleaming, distant spires:
“I walked across the bridge over the river in search of the distant ‘cathedral’ spires I had seen in the view from Mayflower. After wandering aimlessly round the University Hospitals, I stopped into General Hospital and visited an architect who told me that there was no ‘façade’ to the spires, that the hospital was built around the Tower and the spires rested atop the hospital. He lead me down to the central tower area lobby, where by looking up through the glass one could see the spires.”
Two days after Yolanda on the Rocks, I called her room to chat. It was an early Friday night and I was already getting my swerve on.
She said she was playing backgammon with another guy, Chris. Indignant, I said I didn’t want to interrupt their game and slammed the phone down.
We ran into each other the following day at a “champagne breakfast” in the park across the street, where it was abundantly clear she “wasn’t especially talkative to me.” Furthermore, new guy Chris had tickets to the Hawkeyes-Penn State game and she was going to it with him.
“How do I feel?” the journal asks. “Well, put another way, would I turn down a girl with a car to drive me around in, and who wished to take me places?”
That Friday must’ve been Overblown Hamlet Hour. “For the third or fourth time in my life,” the journal entry goes, “I’ve decided to give up writing. I think I’m finally getting somewhere.”
You see, I never considered the journal “writing”—which is strange because I was writing in it nearly every day.
Five days after I’d declared “writing” a stone-cold corpse, I vented new academic frustrations in the journal. I skipped Geology lecture, was unprepared for the day’s French lesson, and—not ready to give a speech in Rhetoric—ditched class altogether.
Then I went off the rails.
It was like that M*A*S*H episode where Scully, an AWOL soldier, shows up at Rosie’s bar, meets a despondent Hawkeye, and both turn Rosie’s into the boozy equivalent of the crowded stateroom scene in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.
“I ran into Kevin,” the Wednesday, Sept. 19 entry states, “a new guy in our Rhetoric class, asked him if he had any money and whether he had supper yet.” He hadn’t, so we went to Bo James’ Saloon for “soup and sandwiches and beers” then shuffled over to “Mama’s, a basement joint, and had a pitcher of Bud (I had a Tequila straight on top of it … [we] talked about road trips, traveling, seeing and describing parts of the country…”
Would Ms. Dazzling Wonderful Eyes be there? And would I finally learn her name?
There was a new bartender working, who I found out later was co-owner of The Crow’s Nest. “I asked him about the other little blonde … and he told me her name is Melanie and she mostly works weekends.”
Melanie. OK, now I knew her name.
Kevin arrived from Dooley’s, had another drink with me, then stumbled out the door again to hitchhike to Cedar Rapids. I left The Nest and “wandered up Dubuque Street until I came to the Deadwood,” Iowa City’s iconic hippie bar.
The rest of the night would’ve been a hazy memory had the journal not spilled the beans:
“I sat at the bar … and ordered a draw of Special Export. I got into talking with a dour man named Daniel O’Connor who made it clear to me that he is not a student, but works for University Hospitals. I don’t know how it came about, but we got into talking about handicapped people and their facing death earlier than most of us. I swallowed down the last of my Ex and as I left he said, dourly, ‘Keep Thinking!’ …walking back to Mayflower—I stopped at Yolanda’s & my spot, on the rock overlooking the river. It was a cool but clear night. It was near midnight. I felt, at the time, I had courted spectres of death all night. Happiness and charm evaded me. I could be anywhere, anybody, doing anything.”
Distant, mysterious spires. Road trips, traveling, hitchhiking. New love interest, jealousy.
Anywhere, anybody, doing anything.
Not even a full month back into college and I was struggling—with studies, new friends, but mostly with myself.
Could I stick it out? I wasn’t sure.