My college education wasn’t all about the classroom

I arrived at Indiana University in late August 1982. My dad drove up from Louisville to South Bend to transport me to Bloomington for my first year of college. A traveling salesman and frequent greasy-spoon diner eater, my dad was in it more for the drive and the dorm food than for taking his first-born son to college.

 I think all the possessions I packed fit into one suitcase. I’m pretty sure I had only one pair of shoes. Before departing, my dad availed himself of a meal in the dormitory dining hall. He chowed down like he was eating at a 5-star restaurant.

My residence was a third story concrete box of a room in Briscoe-Gucker Hall on 17th Street, across from the I.U. varsity athletic facilities. My roommate, who I had not met, had arrived before me and had claimed his bed, closet, and built-in desk. On the wall above his bed, he had affixed a poster with a picture of a full beer mug with the words, “Man cannot live by bread alone” on it.

My education was just beginning. 

I led a pretty sheltered life growing up. My parents divorced when I was 11 years old. My mom got custody of my brother and me. She was strict and ran a pretty tight ship. Good grades were expected, but not rewarded. Since my mom didn’t drive, we did not have a car, so my social life was limited to places I could get to by bus, bike, friend or on foot. 

During my senior year at Riley High School, my math teacher called my mom to inform her I had been truant from class that day and was smoking pot in the gym after a pep assembly (the first accusation was true, the second was false). My mom met me at the back door ready to mete out the punishment without waiting for my side of the story.

When I got to I.U., I was fairly naive about what the wider world had in store for me. I had missed June college orientation. So doing it on my own, I had scheduled 17 credit hours for my first semester instead of a more typical 15 hours. That was a mistake. I found myself in a stifling hot fieldhouse for drop/add day with I.U. basketball player Jim Thomas close by. I wasn’t in Dodge anymore.

Sharing a bathroom with 35 hall mates was a challenge. I learned quickly to hide my clothing while I showered, so it didn’t get taken as a prank. For somebody who barely needed to shave, the amount of facial hair left in the sinks seemed prodigious. The dining hall offered unlimited milk and pop. Growing up, my mother served milk with every meal but had not allowed pop consumption, unless it was 7-Up for an upset stomach (don’t ask!). Soon I was making up for years of pop prohibition. Milk became an afterthought.

Living on my own for the first time, I realized I now controlled my daily schedule. For a while, I stuck to going to class, studying and attending basketball games. I purchased a 12-inch black and white television at College Mall and soon discovered Late Night with David Letterman. Since my dorm room faced north, my TV received all the Indianapolis stations, while the rooms facing south only got Terre Haute stations. I’ll let you decide whose room became late night central.

Letterman was a revelation to me. A Midwesterner with a sarcastic, anti-authoritarian bent, Dave excelled at wisecracks and ridiculous stunts. He introduced all sorts of nerdy, crackpot recurring characters and put many of his program’s behind-the-scenes staff on camera. I was hooked. Nowadays thanks to YouTube, reruns of Letterman’s shows are easily available, in color, no north-facing dorm room required!

And then there was the HPER (Health, Physical Education, and Recreation) building. It was like having a free gym membership. There was a running track, basketball and racquetball courts, a pool and a weight room. Because I was 6-foot-1, some people assumed I was good at basketball. They were proven incorrect in almost every instance. What I was adept at was rolling my ankles. My dorm intramural basketball team had a motto: “Long shots mean long rebounds.” “We can’t score” would have been more accurate and a better fit on our t-shirts. 

Because it’s been 40 years since I arrived at I.U., many of my memories are like the reception on my old, tiny black and white television. My daughter, who attended I.U., lived in dorms and apartments that bore little resemblance to my concrete cube in Briscoe. I understand Briscoe has been upscaled; no more bathrooms for 35. I am not allowed in to verify this because of enhanced security (they keep the doors locked). Dorms now have all sorts of amenities that my cohorts couldn’t have dreamed of. I guess that’s one reason college is so much more expensive now.

When I visit campus these days, most of the buildings look the same from the outside. I can feel the ghost of my younger self when I walk the brick sidewalks of the beautiful central campus. The Sample Gates, which are now an I.U. icon, did not exist when I was there.

“Time rolls on, that’s how it should be” says noted philosopher (and former Van Halen frontman) David Lee Roth. I am grateful for my college experiences, bad and good. They are a large part of who I am today..

And adjunct professor David Letterman gets credit for my minor in sarcasm.