Every time August rolls around, the line at the Co-op is elongated with fresh-faced youngsters ready to take on the world and go vegan for a year. The town gets a little more attractive and the bars get a little more vomity. The newbies come, take classes, get inspired to press social activism, pass out in gutters, work for Food Not Bombs, mess up their rental houses, fail at growing pot in their closets, complain about the music scene, and eventually move away. It is a cycle that has been going on for decades.
For this story I thought I’d spend some time in the HSU dorm cafeteria, commonly known as the J, observing the freshmen bumbling around cluelessly and bumping in to one another. Though I did see two students walk blindly out into traffic by the skate park, they were all pretty composed in the J and I was the one walking around cluelessly, going in the out door and handing my fork to the plate guy. The look on his face was a mixture of superiority and hopelessness about his employment in the year to come.
The kids all looked eager. It was only day two of classes; there were still professors to meet and parts of the campus to explore. I asked the senior student working in the elevator about this year’s freshmen. He said something to the tune of, “They are all the same. They are the same every year.” The freshmen haven’t yet met the hot vegan guy who will make them convert. They haven’t yet found the Rastafari movement. They haven’t tripped balls in the Community Forest. Most of them still sport Humboldt State sweatshirts.
I carry a lot of mixed feelings about the college that sits cross-legged at the top of the hill. Though I’ve been here 11 years, I didn’t attend HSU. I went straight out of high school to a small, private college in Santa Barbara and lived in an apartment. My friends were at larger schools in dorm situations, attending mixer barbecues and hosting school radio shows. It all seemed so age-appropriate and exciting. On a trip east, I slept on my buddy’s floor in the Dartmouth dorms and watched him pledge into his frat the next day. My lonely apartment and small school across the country were gray compared with the colorful college life my friends were experiencing.
When I dropped out of the Santa Barbara snob college and moved here, I was refocusing my energy on ag. (I have to explain to anyone who wasn’t in Future Farmers of America that “ag” is short for agriculture.) CR had a certificate program, so I went there. I also picked up two associate degrees and, while I wish they did, two associate degrees don’t equal one bachelor’s.
I suppose I could finish it off, but the idea of attending school again seems almost as appealing as wearing a whalebone corset all of my waking hours. It makes me think of when I started gymnastics at the late age of 8 and got thrown in with the 5-year-olds — it would be soul-crushing, and not just because I’m older, but maybe because my soul is easily crushed.
I envied every student there, though, on that second day of school — with the year of keg parties and beach make-out sessions ahead of them. They all have a new routine with which to get comfy. I feel like I missed out on those experiences. A structured four-year is a nice buffer between the bosom of one’s immediate family and the pummeling reality of self-sufficiency. I hope they don’t forget to spend their cash in town.