We all know the story. I’ve beaten it to death on here more times than I can count. For persons of a certain age and class, your college friends are a nontrivial part of your life – the ones who stand up with you at weddings, send cards at Christmas, blah blah. Some you may be more involved with than others – some of my closest friends are still in a tight loop with them twenty or twenty-five years on – but they exist.
By my best reckoning, I am in contact with exactly ONE person from that seven-year stretch at my undergrad school and Vanderbilt – and it’s because said Vanderbilt person was also at my high school back in the day. (She’s a foreign service officer in the frackin’ UKRAINE now, but that’s neither here nor there.) So…what exactly am I doing? If I still lived in the ancestral lands, would I still want to be involved with the local alumni organization? Especially given what sort of people from my school are likely to be in Birmingham or Atlanta or Nashville instead of San Francisco? I’m not going to be going to any reunion events, because, well, I wasn’t an undergrad and the grad students are unlikely to do one.
(What provoked all this? I Kindled a book on the Senate by Dr. Frances Lee. I can’t even remember her last name now, but she married Emery Lee, another guy from our department – they were the anchor couple of the Family back in the day, and she is now a name to be reckoned with in matters Senatorial – she will be up there with Bruce Oppenheimer and Barbara Sinclair before you know it if she’s not already. And looking through the early pages, I saw names of faculty and students I hadn’t thought about in years, and it warms my heart to see these guys as decorated political scientists – even if the last time I saw them was on New Years’ Day 1998 about 1 AM in Alexandria when we just happened to be on the same Metro train.)
So we have long established that I have disavowed my undergraduate institution, and have distanced myself from the collegiate team of my youth. There is, as you all know, a serious impediment to affiliating myself with my current employer. So my current options are to either take a bite off the wife’s team (which has heretofore been a much better solution for football) or continue to claim Vanderbilt. But what am I claiming? What’s the connection?
I was going over my list of things I have enjoyed over the last four years, something I started back when I first began grappling with the “who am I now” question, and because I’m me, I was trying to puzzle out categories and metrics and quantify it, and ultimately it boiled down to two things: friends (self-explanatory) and atmosphere. Seriously, that’s what I came down to. And then it all clicked.
What do I miss from Vanderbilt days? Sitting on the deck at SATCO with a bucket of Rocks to wash down the fajitas. Walking by the library at dawn or up Peabody Esplanade at dusk. The Overcup Oak at night, with a fire in the fireplace. Memorial Gym, anytime. The feel of driving up US 100 or 70 with a clear sky full of stars and 20 degrees outside and Sacramento-Cavs coming in clear on WWWE out of Cleveland. The novelty of new channels on the TV and new local commercials. And what is it about throwing in with Cal that I enjoy? Gameday, of course, the roar of the band on Sproul Plaza and the setting sun lighting up Tightwad Hill in a golden glow and the chill of a Big Game tailgate morning up by Sather Tower and Zachary’s after the game.
I had contradictory things all over the list – 5-space, going out with friends, having people over, cocooning at home with the wife, you name it – but so many things just came down to atmosphere. Stretched out on the sofa in a nice freshly clean house with a little Gaucho on the Bose. Driving up Highway 1 under a gray sky with the Redskins on the radio. Walking down the street in the Outer Sunset, a block from the Pacific Ocean, on the way to stepping into the Riptide to sit in front of the fire with a wee dram. A quiet seat at O’Flaherty’s or Trials or O’Neills on a sparsely populated Sunday evening, or walking through the farmer’s market on a Sunday morning, or a beer at Tied House with the NFL playoffs on one screen and hockey on another. Or the phenomenon of “Vanderbilt camping” at the Ritz-Carlton, or actual camping in Portola with the kind of silence you only get by going deep into the woods. Or anything in London, or Switzerland, or Yosemite, or New Orleans…
I can’t nail it down to one thing in particular, I can’t describe it or reliably recreate it, but I know it when I experience it (and I certainly remember after the fact) – the setting makes a big difference in my story. And this may be a healthy thing – after all, living in the moment probably involves a good deal of appreciating the moment and the circumstances. Who knows, maybe I actually developed some in those four years.