Big Man on Campus

When asked what Dad did for a living, I say that he worked at the University of Minnesota. People then invariably reply: “What did he teach?” or “Oh, so he was a professor?”Dad_UMOffice

Pop graduated high school and attended technical college after service in Korea, but he wasn’t much for academia. The closest he came to studying was through drawing. He had impeccable handwriting (learned as an architect drawing up blueprints) and often sketched plans for home improvements, because, well, he was a man of action. Things had to be built.

So, as building manager for the U’s Health Sciences project (now known as the Phillips Wangensteen-Moos complex), he assumed I’d want to go to the university that fall. The indoctrination started when I was not even 15 years old. While visiting him at the U we’d have lunch at the Campus Club, after which we’d walk the mall and stop in at the University bookstore—which of course totally delighted me.

With graduation looming June 6, 1978, I was compelled to send out applications to schools the folks hoped I’d want to attend. No record of where those went, but I remember being hesitant about the U downtown—likely due to Dad’s anticipation of further father–son commutes to campus and lunches together. As a teenager, my daydreams were all about leaving home and putting more space between the ’rents and me.

But that spring I had a more pressing decision to make.

By Thursday, April 13, I’d decided Sally would be my prom date. I wanted to ask her that very day, but our school newspaper’s advisor (and my English teacher), Mr. McHale, had arranged for the editors to join him at an all-day seminar on student press rights at another campus. The seminar was one of my first encounters with college students and life after high school.

My co-editor-in-chief, Jeff Elmer, Harvey and I piled into McHale’s car for the trip and ended up stopping off at the IDS Center downtown for a late lunch. Jim Borgheiinck, the former editor-in-chief of our school paper, The Smoke Signal, then attending Macalester College in St. Paul, would’ve been proud. Jim was a dedicated stoner with a dopey smirk, flyaway Albert Einstein hair and a huge defender of free speech, even among a largely uncaring student populace. At the time Jim was still writing poetry.

The next day, April 14, there was a choir-orchestra program in the school gym. I sat next to Sally and her friend Tami. The moment was ripe to ask her to prom. I grabbed Tami’s pad of paper, dashed off a note and slipped it to Sally. She tucked it away, apparently deciding to read it later.

Before leaving school, Sally handed me a note: “I thought we were just friends. At least I thought so. Its not that I don’t want to go to prom with you—but wouldn’t you rather spend the time and money on someone more than a Buddy.” I read it there and then and said, “Sal—it’s not like we’re getting married!” “We both laughed really hard and she said she’d go,” the diary reports. “I had to go downstairs to the locker room, so we walked as far as we could. Maybe I’ll see her this weekend.”

That Saturday Mom drove me to 7-Hi Shopping Center to rent a tux.

I vacillated for five days about calling Sally. If we were just buddies, we should be at least chatting, I thought, especially days before such an important date. I finally called Wednesday night, April 19. We talked for about an hour (“real nice, almost life stories, interest possibly—can’t tell”).

On Saturday, April 22, I convinced the folks I needed to do more research, so at the invitation of new college man Jim Borghiienck, I borrowed the car to attend a book fair with writers and speakers at Macalester College. I brought some of my latest poetry for Jim to read, and he showed me some of his writing.

After the book fair we “went over to his dorm room, had a few beers, listened to Bruce Springsteen, and talked a lot about writing, college life, high school life,” because it came naturally.

You know. “More from a 3-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school.”

~ by completelyinthedark on February 1, 2013.

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