Friday, January 17, 2014

Memoirs of a Georgetown Freshman: First Semester

In August of 1993, my parents moved from Cincinnati to Houston, and I arrived at the doorstep of Anderson Hall at Georgetown College in rural central Kentucky.  I was 18.



I will never forget how bizarre it was, after my parents helped me move my stuff in, to say goodbye to them and have them leave without me.  I was with my girlfriend (who was also an arriving freshman) and her parents, and I remember everyone crying as we said goodbye.  We arrived about a week or so before classes started because Georgetown had a week-long freshmen orientation, so we didn't immediately start class.  Instead it was a series of seminars, picnics, and other various events, and getting to know a ton of new people.

Because of that, those first few days had an extraordinarily surreal feeling about them - as though we were just at a summer camp that would be ending in a few days and we'd be going home.  In high school, we had attended several week-long summer camps with our church youth group, and I can remember specifically saying to my girlfriend that this felt just like that - like we were doing this thing for a week, and then we'd be going home.  I remember marveling at the notion that I was going to be living among these new strangers for the next four years and would very likely develop lifelong friendships with at least a few of them.

Anderson Hall at that time had no air conditioning.  Like every year in Kentucky in August, it was broiling and humid, with daily temperatures in the upper 80's and low 90's.  For instance, according to the records, August 25, 1993 saw a high of 91 degrees with a maximum humidity of 97.

The only fan I had thought to purchase was a clip-on desk fan.

I'm pretty sure the third window from the ground, just to the right of that red drain pipe (left side of the image) was my room.  But it might have been the one on the left of the drain pipe, behind the tree.
Every night for those first few weeks was like sleeping in soup.  I would toss and turn and sweat all night and wake up with wet sheets and pillow.  It was pure misery, made worse by the fact that I was sleeping in a room with a total stranger who I suspected might murder me in the middle of the night.  Thankfully he didn't.

But that was another bizarre and surreal thing that I can still distinctly remember: meeting my roommate for the first time and realizing that I was going to live with this person and sleep 6 feet away from him every night.  That's just not something you experience very often.  Thankfully we got along fine and he wasn't crazy.  

Classes finally began and the routine of school quickly overcame the feeling that my girlfriend and I were just at another temporary summer camp.  I was a music major and discovered that there was another freshman music major living right next door to me, and a third down the hallway.  Mike and Sammy and I quickly became friends, together with Mike's roommate, John.

I was a really good student that first semester.  I studied all the time and literally practiced the piano so much that my piano professor encouraged me to get out of the practice room every now and then and enjoy college life more.  It was my best semester of college, academically: the only "B" I got that semester was in Speech, because, basically, I couldn't give a speech without being a nervous wreck.

The Nunnelley Music Building.  Those gabled windows at the top peek out of tiny little practice rooms.  I practically lived in this building that first semester.
Unfortunately, I couldn't perform on the piano in front of people without being a nervous wreck either, and I remember giving my first required semester recital that year and being so nervous beforehand that I nearly puked.  Unfortunately, that would only get worse as time passed.

Anderson Hall was a real dump.  Not only was it not air-conditioned, but there also were no curtains on the shower stalls and no doors on the toilet stalls.  No joke.  I think I did #2 in Anderson Hall once that whole first semester, and that was in the middle of the night one time when I got the urge and figured no one would come in.  Otherwise, I used a third floor bathroom in the student center, or used a quiet bathroom in the music building.  It was annoying having to take a walk across campus when nature called.

Also, in addition to having no curtains on the shower stalls, there were also only two stalls out of six that actually ran hot water. The icing on the cake was that all the football players lived in the building too, so it was highly intimidating for a little white-ass freshman pencil-neck music major.  Like my friend Mike.  But for me also.

Since I was a music major, I became involved with Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, which was an honorary music fraternity.  Me and my music major friends all joined and got our pins and attended meetings.  Our faculty adviser was one of the music professors - Mr. Whitfield.  Even though he lived in a really nice home in an upscale, gated neighborhood in Scott County, he drove this little piece of crap car that me and Mike used to refer to as the "Shitfield-mobile."  

Anyway, it was through Phi Mu Alpha that I got to know a few other music majors, namely two upperclassmen named Keith and Raymond.  Both of these guys were also in the same social fraternity, a non-Greek organization called PHA (President's House Association: so-named because the brothers originally lived in a house that had once belonged to a college president), and they got me and all my music major friends interested in joining.  The fraternity rush period wasn't until January, but I started considering that, maybe, perhaps, I might rush.  I had arrived at Georgetown thinking there was no chance in hell I would be in a social fraternity.  An honorary fraternity, like Phi Mu Alpha, was fine.  But not a social fraternity where you lived in a fraternity house and what-not.  I think my general Southern Baptist moralistic background made me suspicious of fraternal life, even on the campus of a Southern Baptist college.

Our chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia went defunct right after we were initiated.  I don't remember why, but I think it was because of a general lack of interest, or nobody wanted to pay dues, or something.  Maybe they all took one look at the new initiates and decided it wasn't worth continuing the tradition.  



But whatever the reason, it had served its purpose in helping me to get to know some upperclassmen.  Those guys would later help me get voted into PHA.

Because my parents had moved to Houston that summer, "going home for the weekend" meant going to my girlfriend's house in Cincinnati - which we did pretty much every weekend that first semester.  Later in college, I would complain about people who went home every weekend, but as first semester freshmen, we didn't really have much to do on the weekends and we liked the comfort of going home and being taken care of for a few days.  We were 18 and we were "adults," but just barely.

For Thanksgiving, I flew home to Houston, which turned out to be the only time I went to Houston for Thanksgiving during my four years at Georgetown.  Even though I've flown many times since then, and that was not the first time I had flown, I can still remember that Thanksgiving flight for some reason: specifically, I remember the airport being packed to the gills, and I had a middle seat on the flight and felt wedged like a sardine.  I also remember being uneasy because in recent months I had started getting interested in reading books about the pilots and planes of the First World War, and I realized for the first time that maybe I knew a little too much about planes and what makes them work....and not work.  I remember it was an unseasonably cold Thanksgiving in Houston that year, which surprised me because I had, naturally, been expecting mild weather.  

My girlfriend and I made it through our first finals week, and got initiated into the Georgetown tradition of Finals Brunch, where they would open the cafeteria at midnight on the night before the first day of finals so you could take a break from studying and eat.  I always loved Finals Brunch because they served breakfast foods, which was the only cafeteria meal that was edible.

I flew to Houston for Christmas, where I basked in the ability to wear shorts in late December.  It was 70 degrees on New Year's Day that year, and 70 again on the day I flew back to Cincinnati (around January 14) to meet my girlfriend before returning back to Georgetown (classes were set to resume on Monday the 17th).  I remember not wearing a coat to the airport that morning.  When I landed in Cincinnati, it was in the 20's and I was freezing.  

But that was nothing.  The change in weather for me was about to get way more dramatic.

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