Finding the Nest (Part 1)
It’s a good thing to realize, I think, because what I went through then might influence how I act today.
Summer and autumn, 1984. Summer, 2015.
This autumn? I don’t know.
You see, even with a solid plan in place, I still wasn’t sure I’d made the right decision that summer 31 years ago.
But it’s clear I was desperately unhappy—with my job, my home life, my education (and lack thereof), and my relationships.
Maybe I wouldn’t have felt that strongly had things on the British trip turned out differently. But Abi was still in Scotland and I was back home on the farm. No doubt the folks realized, too, how miserable I was.
So, the ’rents suggested: “What if you moved to Iowa City and attended the university there? It has one of the best writing departments in the country. You could quit your job to concentrate 100 percent on your studies. Meet new friends. Learn new things. And you’d finally be away from home.”
It sounded like heaven.
So here I am again.
Not in Iowa City of course, but feeling trapped and dreaming about other places to explore, new people to befriend, amazing things to learn, and—maybe, just maybe—finding home again.
Because I’m nervous writing about this, I’m thinking it’s best expressed as a multi-part post, where perhaps I can fully flesh out how the changes of the past, with its attendant biases, beliefs, etc., can affect the present—and discover how altering those mindsets might steer me toward a better future.
—Like my wonderful “future” in the autumn of 1984.
I’d been working at the print shop for three years when I quit on Friday, Aug. 10, 1984.
That day, Gerry, my boss, had bought the entire shop take-out from A&W, which we ate in the conference room. After lunch I went to see him in his office.
“Well,” he said when I gave him my two-weeks’ notice, “You sorta floored me.”
A journal entry the following Tuesday goes into more detail: “He was taken aback—his eyes fixed on me, brain gears clicking madly in succession, I think he even sat back a bit in his chair. He said he was happy for me [returning to college] and that he felt a bonus was in order.”
Friday, Aug. 24, was my last day. I recall working in the bindery, then cleaning up the darkroom one last time. I also remember not feeling very useful that day, like I had run the end of my rope.
And nobody really cared if I kept hanging on to it.
After 5 p.m., everyone met up at a local restaurant and bar called Donnie’s, where they threw me a going-away party: Todd and John, the pressmen; Rich, who helped out in the bindery; Diane, who worked the front desk with Judy, who was joined by her husband Larry; Gordy (who did the books) with his wife Sharon; and Gerry. We drank Tequila Sunrises and beer; I received a box full school and bathroom supplies (the latter a sort of inside joke) as a farewell gift, and three final checks totaling $430. We all went home around 7 p.m.
Then, first thing Saturday morning, I left for Iowa with Mom and Dad.
My dorm room was on the eighth floor of Mayflower Hall on North Dubuque Street, out where the butt end of Iowa City meets Interstate 80 and parts east and west.
Mayflower. Huh. Like the ship, transporting the Pilgrims to the New World.
Never occurred to me until now.
Across Dubuque Street was the lazy Iowa River, hugged by Terrell Mill Park, a little grassy retreat shaded by huge cottonwood trees.
Alone in my bare dorm room (pictured above right), I awaited my new roommate, and suitemates who would share our kitchen and adjoining double bathroom.
Classes wouldn’t start until Wednesday, Aug. 29, so I had nearly two days all to myself. The week began with Orientation and a walk up to the main campus—a walk the journal describes as “exciting.”
“A women’s marathon passed by on the street,” it reads. It was a lovely late summer day. The cobblestone streets were mottled with sunlight. At the top of the hill, I was able to see across the river to the university hospitals, where mysterious gothic-like spires poked through the treetops. I made a mental note to explore further.
On the first night I’d met three new friends on my floor, Rick Kubat, a lanky guy from Illinois with a permanently bemused smirk, and a girl named Carolyn. Rick had a Volkswagen Bug and gave us a ride up to Burge Hall, where we picked up their friend Kay.
Then, on Monday after 7 p.m., my roommate arrived—let in by staff while I was (probably) listening to prog rock in my headphones. James “Bud” Morris, a beaming, curly haired guy with a friendly Louisville, Ky., drawl, stepped in with parents in tow and suitcases in hand. We then met Andy, our suitemate, who was still awaiting arrival of his roommate, a German exchange student named Christian.
Bud, Andy, and I quickly bonded that night over music. Andy mentioned a progressive radio station out of Cedar Rapids he always listened to. Bud had brought his stereo, Sony headphones, and cassette tapes filled with Elvis Costello, The Jam, Peter Gabriel, and—soon to be my favorite new music discovery—R.E.M. When I later introduced Bud to Rick, mention was made of downtown hot spots that we had to check out before classes got underway.
One of those places was a nightclub called The Crow’s Nest.
I’ll never, ever, forget it.
“…it was down South Dubuque Street. It was a sort of hole-in-the-wall, by sort I mean that it had deceptive appearances. At the front it looked like a small intimate bar, but out a door to the back and it rose into a high ceiling, cool and spacious—much like a high school gymnasium—and with a high stage. The band playing was called The Shy and they were good, as far as local bands go. They had energy.”
But the Nest really shined on Friday night of the same week, when Bud and I returned to kick off Labor Day weekend 1984:
“…we headed for the Crow’s Nest to watch the band Steve, Bob & Rich. As we got in the door and bellied up to the bar, we both asked for Heineken—Light for me, and dark for Bud. A lovely little brunette with streaks of blonde, whose eyes were dazzling & wonderful, served us at the bar. She had to fetch the Heineken Light for me, and when she came back with her hands full of bottles, I jokingly said, ‘No, I only need one for now.’ That got a nice smile out of her. Bud and I went in to see the band, 3 guys with a drummer with a squeaky voice as vocalist. They played a lot of old tunes and rockabilly and finally—around 11 o’clock, when Bud and I had had enough of the style and squeaking, we took off. Actually, the crowd at the Crow’s Nest was the biggest we’d seen to date.”
That mention of a “lovely little brunette with streaks of blonde” is the first about her, Ms. Dazzling Wonderful Eyes—whose name I still needed to learn—that fall.
The rest of the holiday weekend was uneventful, as Iowa City became a ghost town.
Bud and I tried to make the best of it: walking up to John’s Grocery for beer, tuning into Andy’s Cedar Rapids radio program “Progressions” and listening to new music, passing up a late matinee of Prince’s Purple Rain for dinner at Bo James’ Saloon, followed by 2-for-1 drinks at Diamond Dave’s Taco Company…
And then, this. On Sunday evening, Sept. 2, 1984:
“On the way back to Mayflower, we saw what seemed to be Amusement Park lights in the Public Park across the river, so we crossed the bridge, trudged through the park and came upon a little Amusement setup with a small Ferris Wheel and Merry-Go-Round. A cool autumn-like breeze was blowing—it was a magical night, made me wish I had a girlfriend there with me, a girl with whom I could share that magical little place. Bud and I didn’t go on any of the rides; we just walked around a bit in awe.”
An awe-inspiring magical night.
An exciting new hangout. A lovely new face.
New friends and a fellow music-loving roommate.
Searching for home is, I believe, about finding the right people. People with whom you can share experiences (like pop-up amusement parks).
And the wish—an honest, solid, hopeful one—for love with the right person.