An Unexpected Package



December 3 , 1999

I got a letter today. A big envelope actually. With a letter, photocopies of some memorabilia, and photocopies of photographs. All this from one of my sorority sisters from college.

Sorority sister. I can hear you all screaming and see you all shrinking back in your chairs. Those of you who know me may find the whole sorority thing a little unbelievable. Then again, you may not.

Yes, when I was in college I was in a sorority. Alpha Chi Omega. I'm actually a charter member of the chapter that was started at the university I went to--New Mexico State University. Home of the Aggies. Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Here was the thing about college. I didn't want to go. At all. I'd been in school for 12 years and I was done. Then my father did one of the smartest things a parent who has a child who doesn't want to go to college can do: he got me a job. Doing manual labor. In a record warehouse. In the San Fernando Valley. During one of the hottest summers I could remember. The summer of 1977.

My job was to keep open stocks of lp's sufficiently filled with albums, from the back areas of the warehouse, for the order pickers to pull these albums to fill orders destined for record stores around the world. Yes, albums. And these albums came in boxes of 25.

Me and the other little elves would go around the racks and check to see that we had enough of everything that the order pickers needed. When there wasn't enough we had to go to the back of the warehouse--the size of probably two football fields, and find the boxes with the appropriate records in them and schlep them back to the racks, open the boxes, and squeeze the albums into their designated spots.

Have you ever carried 50-100 albums around? In 105 degree heat? In an extremely dusty and dirty environment? All day long? Five days a week? With Gerry Rafferty's Baker Street playing incessantly in the background?

No, I thought not.

I'm here to tell you the job sucked. (Except for the fact that you could be stoned doing it--a major plus.) And my father assured me that without a college education this was the only type of work I was going to be qualified to do. For. The. Rest. Of. My. Life.

I believed him.

You see, the order pickers were adults. Women. Mostly trailer trash. With beer bellies. And not enough teeth. And stringy hair. And dirty fingernails.

I didn't want this to be my fate.

So, in about late June/early July I decided I had better go to college. If I was going to go directly from high school this meant I should be starting that fall. OK. It's summer. I need to be enrolled some place by August. I'm here to tell you, the choices of places with available spots at that late date is slim. Pretty damned slim. Besides, my grades were not all they could have been (see above re: being stoned). That further limited my choices. Let's put it this way--there were no Ivy League recruiters knocking down my doors.

But, New Mexico State University was happy to have me. Me and my out-of-state-resident tuition fees. Come late August I was freed from the bowels of the warehouse and off to start matriculating.

I remember the first day in Las Cruces New Mexico almost like it was yesterday.

My father, his wife, and I flew into El Paso International Airport. The three of us and about 35 boxes, suitcases, duffle bags, and other assorted packages filled with the things I absolutely had to have with me in college. It was about 125 in the shade.

Here's another thing about deciding in July that you absolutely must start college, away from home, in August--chances are pretty excellent that campus housing will be full. It was in my case. There would be spots opening up within a month or so, and as freshmen were required to live on campus they would be housing me and some other fellow Aggies at a nearby-ish motel.

My parents and I deposited my things in my temporary housing and went to discover more about the Land of Enchantment.

Here's the thing. I had only moved from New York to Los Angeles a year earlier. I thought LA was incredibly slow and laid back compared to New York. Imagine how I felt when I found myself in the middle of the desert. In cow country in the desert. I thought the world had not only slowed down, but in fact, had started going backwards. Was I about to embark on the biggest mistake of my life?

Well, when we returned to the motel and I met my temporary roommate (who had arrived with only one small suitcase and a modest trunk) I was absolutely certain this was a poor choice. Suffice it to say we couldn't have been two more different people, from completely different backgrounds, with completely different cultural outlooks, and completely different everything. But hey, it's college, it's an adventure. The girl, who had never been away from home before, lasted less than a week.

Motel life was raucous to say the least. I'll spare you the details but will tell you the thing that ensured my expedited placement in on-campus housing. You see, at this motel there was a pool. A pool with a waterfall that came out over the pool and splashed water down about 12 feet. And the spout of the waterfall was accessible from the second floor of the motel. And when I suggested that we put soap suds in the waterfall and turn the pool into a huge bubble bath and my fellow residents agreed, and we ruined the filter of the pool (and, btw: it didn't froth up as much as we would have liked)...well, let's just say that I don't think the motel offered the University the option of overflow accommodations after that semester.

My sophomore year, 1978, I met this girl. Lauren. I've mentioned her before. Lauren had actually chosen to go to college in New Mexico. She was from New Jersey. She'd been there before. She had relatives who lived there, in Las Cruces. Well...Lauren and I became best friends, and eventually roommates.

In the fall of 1979, this sorority came to campus. They were soliciting new members. Now I will point out that Lauren and I were not exactly what you'd call the typical sorority type. She was semi-hippyish (OK, it's not a word, but it works here), I was...well, me...we were Grateful Dead/Bruce Springsteen/Renaissance listening, pot smoking, card playing, stay up late, don't wear makeup kind of girls. Typical sorority girls on my campus, and I'm going to guess campuses around the country, were pantyhose, high heel, mascara wearing, giggly types. But hey, this was a new sorority. Some of our fellow pot-smoking, hippy-ish, stay up late girlfriends were going to check it out. We did too. We figured it was a new thing. We could make it what we wanted.

Well, after a week of interviews, secret meetings, and who the hell remembers what-all else, we were asked to join. And join we did. We were sorority girls. We were the rowdy sorority (as best I recall). We threw and attended parties. We did intramural sports. We had a makeshift sorority house--the upper floor of a men's dormitory. Lauren's boyfriend and his dog moved in our room in the sorority house (without anyone finding out for a long time). We partied. We had fun. We did drugs. All together it was a great time.

Anyway, that was 20 years ago. I don't think about it much. I don't keep in regular contact with any of my sorority sisters, with the exception of Lauren, and then infrequently with one of our other sisters, Kim. But I liked or loved them all.

Well, then this envelope arrived in the mail today. Lauren (who was better at keeping in touch with people than I am) had given my address to one of the other women. This woman, Carol, as it turns out is the Dean of Student Affairs at a small college outside of Boston. Whoda thunk?

Anyway, Carol recently attended a function for a sorority at her school which jogged her memory about our sorority and she dug up some old pictures, an article, and the original "call for members" for the sorority. She wrote a lovely letter to me and seven other women (probably the only seven I'd remember or that I probably liked).

There's talk about a reunion.

We're all 40 or on the brink. We've all moved on. Some of us are married (some more than once). Some divorced. Other's have chosen alternative lifestyles. Some I have no clue what they're up to.

I don't think about those days much anymore. They were great. Really great. But we all grow up and move on. It would be nice to see those women again though. See how we've all grown and grown up.

Ut oh...gotta lose 20

Until next time...

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