I made an extended weekend trip to northwest Indiana for a long overdue visit with friends and family, one filled with both nostalgia for the past and appreciation for enduring friendships renewed.
Concededly, I am positively masochistic when it comes to self-inflicted nostalgia. During much of this trip, I had my rental car radio tuned to an oldies station that played songs mostly from the late 70s through early 80s. Like many, I associate old Top 40 songs with memories of earlier days, so I basically had a series of mental videos going through my head, prompted by whatever was on the air.
I put the nostalgia machine on overdrive when I had some time to kill before heading off to O’Hare Airport. I decided to spend a few hours driving around to old haunts.
It started with a visit to our early boyhood home in small-town Griffith, Indiana, where my brother Jeff and I spent our early years with our parents. I had not been there in many decades. I was stunned to see a cozy little block with a narrow street. In my memories of being five years old, it is a big, humongous block with a wide street!
I also stopped at the Hammond, Indiana house that was home for most of my childhood through teen years. No real surprises there…it and the surrounding homes were much more as I had remembered them.
For some odd reason I wanted to revisit the sites of jobs I had worked before moving to New York for law school in 1982. During several college summers and holiday periods, as well as an interim year between finishing college and leaving for law school, I worked for Ribordy Drugs, a local drugstore chain that once had a couple of dozen stores dotting northwest Indiana.
It was standard low-paid retail store work, unloading delivery trucks, tagging merchandise, and stocking shelves. Although I grumbled about it at times, I now look back and realize that those experiences helped me to develop a work ethic.
When I graduated from Valparaiso in 1981, I intended to take an interim year before moving on to law school. Alas, so-called “professional” jobs were not in large supply for new graduates in recession-burdened Northwest Indiana. So I ended up returning to Ribordy Drugs, this time working at its new warehouse-style store, a local precursor of the big box chain stores that now dominate the retail outlets in the area. I worked there more-or-less full-time, while also doing some part-time reporting for a local community newspaper.
It was not the most exciting year of my life, but because I was filing my law school applications, it was filled with anticipation. My original plan was to head to the west coast, but when an acceptance letter from New York University arrived in the mail, I knew that I wanted to go there. In August 1982, I would leave for NYU and the Big Apple.
But let me get back to people. The photo above is from a mini-reunion last Friday of college friends from Valparaiso University and assorted family members. The company of Hilda, Mark, Brad, Don, Maggie, Dave, Dorothy, Jim, Elena, Abby, and Matt made for a most enjoyable evening. The many smiling faces in the photo were more than snapshot poses. We were laughing a lot, unearthing stories from back in the day and sharing news of the latest goings-on in our lives.
At my motel, I also bumped into another group of VU alums holding their own little reunion, including friends Sheralynn (and a most articulate contributor to a running e-mail exchange about the suspense series 24 when it aired) and Rachelle (fellow study abroad participant). Their sorority was doing a kind of Chicagoland summer reunion caravan that concluded with a visit to their alma mater. Getting to see them was an unexpected treat.
The next day, I drove to Hammond, where I joined with my brother Jeff and old friends Mark and Karen for a meal at the House of Pizza, a restaurant than enjoys legendary status for its uniquely excellent thin crust pizza. Mark and I have been friends going waaaay back to the 3rd grade. And all four of us have been going to House of Pizza since we were kids. Sharing a meal at one of Chicagoland’s many superb pizza places has become a sort of tradition during visits there.
I then met up for a visit with my long-time friend Katherine (going back to high school), who first took me to the local Community Veteran’s Memorial, featuring some very well done historical exhibits and timelines. We then went to one of the local casinos (none of which were around when I grew up there), where we enjoyed a first-rate meal and won $10 playing the nickel slots. (I cannot recall the last time I was in a casino. What a surreal world onto itself.)
So here’s the lesson, especially for us nostalgia freaks: Old haunts are what they are, places of days gone by. It may be meaningful to revisit them, but they are of the past. When it comes to people, however, it’s about the present. The relationships built over the years may have their roots in long ago, but when they remain vibrant, and thankfully stripped of
our my early immaturities (er, at least some of them), that is a pretty cool thing.
The brutal winter that we experienced here in Boston has finally given way to more civilized weather, even if piles of snow collected during January and February and deposited in designated snow removal areas have not fully melted.
Summer beckons, even though the temperature here remains very cool and spring-like. I’m not complaining — I can live with spring and fall weather very happily, thank you. But especially now that my classes are done and I’m finished grading exams and papers, I sort of expect it to be warmer.
Nevertheless, the cool, nice weather has made it comfortable to walk around a bit and take a few snapshots, which I’m happy to share with you.
This time of year triggers bouts of nostalgia for me. Thirty years ago, I graduated from NYU School of Law and began studying for the New York bar exam, a fun little ordeal I wrote about last year.
I had already accepted a position with New York City Legal Aid Society, fulfilling my wish to work as a public interest lawyer. First, however, I had to get through the summer bar study. I managed do to so, but not without feeling sorry for myself an awful lot of that time. In particular, as I wrestled with studying for the exam itself, I badly missed many of my best friends from law school, who took their talents across the country to start their legal careers.
My previous law school summers were memorable. I spent the summer after my second year working as a summer associate at a large corporate law firm in Chicago, an experience I wrote about in a post last year. It taught me a lesson that I share with many of my students: Sometimes experiences that help you eliminate options are as valuable as those that help you to create choices.
I spent the summer after my first year working at the New Jersey Public Defender’s office, while living in one of the NYU law dorms. Heh, one of the things I remember most about that summer was the opening of Steve’s Ice Cream in the Village. Steve’s was a Boston ice cream brand that popularized the practice of toppings hand mixed into your chosen flavor of ice cream. I was making the princely minimum wage that summer, and a chunk of those meager earnings went to Steve’s.
Thirty-five years ago, I had finished my junior year at Valparaiso University. I spent a lot of time serving in a key Indiana volunteer role for the independent Presidential campaign of John B. Anderson, which I wrote about here last June. I also studied hard for the Law School Admissions Test, which I took that summer.
A few weeks after taking the LSAT, I would learn that I did well enough to have some attractive options for law school. Originally I had every intention of attending law school on the west coast, but NYU was too appealing to turn down.
Since becoming a professor, most summers have been devoted in large part to various research and writing projects typically leading to the publication of articles in scholarly law journals. During the summer of 1998, for example, I did a lot of the spadework on my first article examining the legal and policy implications of workplace bullying, eventually published in 2000. It would prove to be a groundbreaking piece that helped to plant the seeds for a movement to enact workplace anti-bullying laws.
This summer I’ve been finishing up a piece on legal scholarship and “intellectual activism,” the latter being a term that I use to describe the process of engaging in research and analysis of a significant legal problem, designing proposed law reform and public policy responses, and then going into a more public mode with those proposals. It harnesses many of the experiences I’ve had and lessons I’ve learned over the past twenty or so years.
Of course, I also am grateful for the flexibility my job affords me to spend the summer working on a largely self-defined schedule. That very flexibility allows me the time to step out the door and take a few photos of this walkable city.
In my not-so-humble opinion, what separates a truly iconic city from many other fine places is that the great 20th century lyricists and composers wrote songs and music about them. They are the stuff of the Great American Songbook (and that of London and Paris, too).
Here are some of my favorite songs about New York, San Francisco, Chicago, London, and Paris. Sinatra versions predominate; he knew how to croon tunes about great cities.
Click, listen, watch, and enjoy.
When I decided to go to law school at NYU in New York City in 1982, I did so sight unseen. I didn’t have much money, so I evaluated law schools by studying their catalogs and consulting write-ups about them in published guidebooks. (This was pre-Internet, of course!) I finally saved up enough cash to visit New York for the first time, during the summer before starting law school. I came back knowing that I had made the right decision. Sinatra’s “New York, New York” quickly became my personal anthem, and it still gives me goosebumps to listen to it.
“Take Me Back to Manhattan” is a Cole Porter number often included in productions of Anything Goes. This version was performed by Judy Kaye for a 1980s collection, Songs of New York (pictured above).
True, “Rhapsody in Blue” is a musical composition, not a song. But as this video set to George Gershwin’s masterpiece will attest, it is a perfect ode to New York City. I can listen to it over and again.
The “Lullaby of Broadway” was written in 1935 and is now part of stage versions of 42nd Street. This is a great video of the 1980s Broadway production, starring Jerry Orbach (later of Law & Order) in the lead role, which I saw in 1984.
When I opted for law school in New York, it marked one of my early forks in the road. Before deciding to go east, I had looked very, very hard at schools in California and, especially, in the Bay Area. On occasion, but without regrets, I’ll wonder what if. “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” by Tony Bennett gets me nostalgic for a city I’ve only visited.
I grew up in northwest Indiana, right across the state border near Chicago. I took Chicago for granted back then, but today I appreciate it as a big, brawny, quintessential American city. “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)” is my favorite song about the Windy City, and no one does it better than Sinatra.
“My Kind of Town” is Sinatra’s other tribute to Chicago, and it’s a great song too.
“A Foggy Day (in London Town)” is part of the George and Ira Gershwin songbook, and it sounds especially fine with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong doing the honors.
“A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” is a wonderfully evocative song about London during the Second World War era, here performed by the incomparable Vera Lynn. It’s one of my favorites, one that I sing often in my weekly voice class and at open mic nights.
“I Love Paris” is another Cole Porter standard from the early 50s, just years after the end of the war. Sinatra captures the city’s beauty in this rendition.
What? No song about Boston, the city in which I’ve lived for over 20 years? Sadly, no. Boston has its attractions, but there’s no classic standard to mark it. I’ll have more to say about that in a future post.
If this headline and photo are to be believed, collegiate munchies have definitely stepped up a notch or two since my student days. Those burgers look pretty darn good, don’t they?
During this month of May, I’ll be reminiscing even more about collegiate and law school experiences, and this particular entry is appropriately about food. After all, especially around finals time, late night eateries near campuses do a landmark business. Back in the day, I contributed mightily to this sales uptick.
At Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana during the late 70s and early 80s, late night chow options were somewhat limited, at least within reasonable walking distance. In fact, this post was triggered by a Facebook conversation the other day posted by a fellow dorm dweller (hat tip to Dr. Mark Kegel here), during which we reminisced about local eateries. A place called Greek’s Pizza deservedly enjoyed semi-legendary status, and the VU student union did a decent job on pizza as well, but beyond that the pickings were uneven.
I recall an independent donut shop that apparently had escaped regular health code inspections; I considered it a destination of desperation. There was a food truck selling pretty good stromboli sandwiches that would drive around campus. I also ate more microwaved sandwiches from the local 7-Eleven than my large intestine cares to remember. Toss in a Dairy Queen and a few other fast food places, and that was basically it.
When I got to law school at NYU a few years later, the midnight munchies situation got much better. This was, of course, Greenwich Village of the early 80s, and affordable eateries abounded. Thanks to my more gastronomically adventurous law school pals, my appetite would diversify considerably, especially when it came to ethnic foods.
Late night food options, however, reverted back to basics, with the 24-hour diners at the top of the heap. The Washington Square Diner on West 4th Street was the site of numerous 2 a.m. bacon cheeseburger runs and breakfast platters, and the Cozy Soup ‘n’ Burger on Broadway at Astor Place served up many a burger and cups of their awesome split pea soup. Empire Szechuan delivered tasty Chinese food into the wee hours. And after a late night of studying in the library, a pitstop at Ben’s Pizzeria for a serviceable quick slice was sometimes in order. (All of these places are still in business, by the way!)
In both college and law school, these intakes didn’t exactly make for the healthiest of diets. I have a feeling that many of today’s students are doing a little better on that count. Chipotle’s might not count as fast food, but it’s healthier and fresher than a visit to the Golden Arches. Then again, for a pure late night food experience, a good bacon cheeseburger in the wee hours of the morning beats a burrito bowl any day.
Although I’m a moderately serious sports fan, and I’ve been associated with a good number of colleges and universities over the years, I’ve never attended a school with a big-time sports program. On the pro side, I’ve maintained my strong affinity for Chicago teams (Cubs, Bears, and Bulls, oh my!), and been a fair-weather fan of the New York Mets (mid-80s), New York Knicks (80s-early 90s), and New England Patriots (Brady-Belichick era). However, when it comes to college basketball and football, I’ve been something of a waif.
I’ve been writing a lot about my college and law school experiences lately, so let’s take them from a sporting angle.
Starstruck and Bobcats
I received a very good classroom education at Valparaiso University, but its intercollegiate sports teams during the late 70s and early 80s were lackluster and not a big focus of campus life. VU had just made the jump to Division 1 basketball, and those early teams struggled for respectability. I went to only one game, against then-No. 1 ranked DePaul University, led by All American forward (and future NBA All Star) Mark Aguirre. When DePaul walked onto the court for warm-ups, the VU fans stood up — not to applaud or to jeer, but rather because we were starstruck that a top-ranked team was in our midst. The game itself played out as one might expect.
My next educational port of call was New York University for law school. During the early to mid 20th century, NYU enjoyed national success in both basketball and football circles, but by the time I arrived in 1982, intercollegiate sports had been de-emphasized to the point of irrelevance. It would relaunch its men’s basketball program at the Division 3 level during the mid-80s. They quickly assembled some good teams, even reaching the national championship game in the early 90s, and have remained competitive since then.
Each year I lived in New York, I would go to a few NYU hoops games, usually alone. D3 hoops games aren’t a big draw with the rest of Manhattan at your fingertips. Or maybe it was hard to get excited about a college team whose mascot is named after the library’s card catalog (Bobst Library Card Catalog, or Bobcat for short).
As for NYU’s football team, it remained undefeated throughout my years in the city, holding steady at 0-0. (Ba dum.)
Over the years, I’ve kept my affinity for Notre Dame football — a product of having grown up in Northwest Indiana. Fandom can be irrational; I’m neither Catholic nor a Notre Dame alum!
Because a dear friend is an Annapolis graduate (Class of 1953), I root for the Navy Midshipmen as well. Had some weird twist of fate ever led me to the Academy, I would’ve lasted about a week before getting booted out for continually questioning orders, so go figure.
During the 2000s, the University of Hawaii had a string of successful, fun-to-watch, pass happy teams, and I enjoyed pulling for them. The highlight of that run was an undefeated regular season in 2007, culminating in a Sugar Bowl appearance.
For reasons I can’t explain, I also follow from afar (usually by checking the box scores) the powerhouse Division 3 football team at the University of Mount Union in Ohio. Although they’ve been stymied in the national championship game in recent years by nemesis Wisconsin-Whitewater, they have compiled some of the most remarkably dominant seasons in the history of collegiate football.
Back to Valpo
As for college basketball, well, I’m now rooting for Valparaiso(!), which has become a very competitive mid-major D1 team since my days there. The foundation was set seventeen years ago, when the Crusaders enjoyed a storybook season, topped off by a trip to the 1998 NCAA tournament and a Cinderella run to the Sweet Sixteen. Its star player was guard Bryce Drew, the coach’s son, who hit a legendary, buzzer beating 3-point shot to upset powerhouse Ole Miss in the first round:
Drew followed his collegiate glory with a solid stint in the NBA. He is now the Valparaiso head coach, and when VU makes an appearance on one of the ESPN stations, I’ll often watch or record the game. They made the NCAA tournament this year, losing in the opening round to Maryland in a close game.
This month, SB Nation ran an excellent long form piece by Justin Pahl, son of a former VU faculty member, who wrote about growing up with the emerging, underdog VU basketball program during the 1990s. It’s a very good story about life and sports in a small, Midwestern university town. I took a screen shot and pasted it in above.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni is getting a lot of attention for his new book, Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania (2015), which urges young people and their families not to buy into the huge anxieties and nuttiness that surround the college application process. In essence, he’s saying that the people and communities that we bring into our lives have much greater bearing on life satisfaction than getting into a prestigious school.
I think the overall message is a sound one, but the topic is more complicated than first meets the eye.
A good number of friends around my age have gone through this process with their children. Especially for high school students aspiring to attend a highly-ranked school, the college admissions game has become a significant, part-time job for them and their parents, one wrought with adolescent emotions, adult anxieties, and difficult cost-benefit assessments.
Sadly, I don’t think this will change, especially in an America where families in the middle and upper-middle classes are fearful of their ability to maintain their stations in life, college costs have gone through the roof, and the promise that the kids will do better than their parents is looking more and more precarious.
As a non-parent, it’s easy for me to claim from my detached perch that I wouldn’t buy wholeheartedly into that mania, but in truth it’s very, very hard to ignore this dynamic. And the peer pressure and social expectations for young students and parents alike are significant in high school settings that are turbo-charged about college placement.
Nevertheless, as a nostalgic creature by nature, does this make me a little wistful for the days when the college application process wasn’t so riddled with anxiety?
As a high school senior, I assumed I’d go to college, but I took the process rather casually. I visited a few schools in my home state of Indiana, and I ended up applying to only one, Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana. It was a smaller school, emphasizing the liberal arts, and it seemed comfortable and close enough to home. I figured it would be good enough, and it appeared that my chances of admission were strong.
I was accepted, and that was the extent of my college “search.” Easy peasy, right?! Isn’t this a perfect example of how low key the college application process was back in the day?
But herein lies the truth behind much nostalgia: It becomes a little, well,
rose-colored fictitious. Even before the U.S. News rankings of colleges became ubiquitous and top 10/50/100 lists of schools started popping up everywhere, there was a rough sense of which schools were considered among the elite. And my story of applying to only one school and basically assuming I’d get admitted is exactly that, only mine. In the meantime, thousands of others who had more focused aspirations and their sights set on certain schools were sweating out the process.
In fact, five years later, I would ramp up my own anxieties when I applied to law schools. I was considerably more invested in the process, and I took active responsibility for researching law schools and identifying which ones might be good for me. Now, that’s the generic description. In truth, I became obsessed with the whole deal, and full of the kind of self-absorption that can inflict an ambitious young person during such life chapters. The moment I received New York University’s letter of acceptance, I pretty much knew I would go there, as I had many reasons to believe it would be a very good match for me.
So how do these schools look in the rear-view mirror some 30 years later? I’ve written on this blog many times about my experiences at Valparaiso (here, for example). My relationship with it has changed much for the better over the years, in large part because I have a greater appreciation for the quality education it gave me, and I have treasured friendships from those years that I know will be lifelong. As for NYU Law School, I am deeply grateful for the experiences, friendships, and opportunities it provided. In many ways, it was the right place at the right time for me. (You can read a bit more about that, here.)
As I reflect on all this, maybe Frank Bruni’s title — Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be — is overstating it, even if we welcome its underlying message. Many of us have been shaped profoundly by the schools we attended, though not necessarily because they were/weren’t considered “prestigious” in the eyes of others. The deeper questions associated with the college application process are more vital and complicated ones, fostering considerations about how much we should allow markers of prestige to shape our beliefs, decisions, and experiences.
In sum, for anyone who believes that upward mobility and “success” are, generally speaking, worthwhile aspirations, but that a good life embodies much more than collecting trophy lines on resumes, this conversation may be rife with honest and very human contradictions and inconsistencies. Easy peasy it ain’t.
As some of you know, I’ve been writing a professional blog, Minding the Workplace, for over six years. A lot of the material is heavier stuff, looking at employee relations, workplace bullying, employment law, psychological health at work, and so on. But on occasion I’ve written pieces with a lighter touch that may be of interest to readers here. I thought I’d dig into the archives of that blog and share a few of them:
Taking stock at midlife: Time for reading assignments? (2014) — “So, in the absence of these colleges for 40-year-olds (and beyond), how can we think and reflect upon our lives to date, our lives right now, and our lives to come? For those who, like me, sometimes turn to good books for guidance, let me introduce a thick anthology, Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be (2006), co-edited by Mark R. Schwehn & Dorothy C. Bass, both of Valparaiso University, my undergraduate alma mater.”
What now, not what if (2013) — “Currently stored on my DVR are a PBS program and a National Geographic docudrama about President Kennedy, both produced to coincide with the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Although I’m a devotee of history, I have a feeling that I won’t be watching them….That lesson was reinforced to me in Stephen King’s 2011 time travel epic, 11/22/63, which takes us back to the years leading up to the assassination of President Kennedy.”
The perils and pleasures of nostalgia, even about work?! (2013) — I get especially nostalgic about two work experiences. The first was my initial year as a Legal Aid lawyer in Manhattan, following my graduation from NYU’s law school….My second nostalgic focus: Returning to NYU after six years of legal practice as an instructor in its innovative first-year Lawyering Program….Both clusters of memories, however, gloss over the fact that I was years away from discovering my true passions as a teacher, scholar, and advocate. I was clueless about a lot of things, and not exactly on the leading edge of emotional maturity.”
August 1982: Next Stop, Greenwich Village (2012) — “This month, I find myself particularly nostalgic over events of 30 years ago, when I moved from Hammond, Indiana to New York City to begin law school at New York University, located in the heart of Greenwich Village. This was a pretty big deal for me. Although I had benefited greatly from a semester abroad in England during college at Valparaiso University, I was far from worldly and had never been to New York City before applying to NYU….Within a few days of my arrival, I would start classes in Vanderbilt Hall, the main law school building, on the southwest corner of Washington Square….”
Collegiate reflections: Studying the liberal arts (2012); Collegiate reflections: Working on the campus newspaper (2012) — “With Commencement season coming to a close at colleges and universities across the nation, I beg my readers’ indulgence as I use a short series of posts to reflect upon my own collegiate experience….”
Ch-ch-ch-changes: Some books to guide toward good transitions (2012) — As we turn the calendar to a New Year, I wanted to gather together some recommended titles for those who are engaged in or contemplating a major work or personal transition….If you’re in the midst of big changes, these books may prove a worthy investment in terms of your livelihood and well-being. I hope you find them helpful.
Does life begin at 46? (2010) — “Conventional wisdom, according to research, is wrong. True, we start off our adulthoods pretty happy and become increasingly disenchanted as middle age approaches. However, our outlook then gets better as we age. The Economist cites research studies to back up its proposition, overcoming the presumption that this is more Boomer-inspired babble about how 60 is the new 40.”
Embracing creative dreams at midlife (2010) — “Dreams die hard is something of an old chestnut, but having entered the heart of midlife, I am thankful that this often is true. I think especially of creative energies waiting to be tapped and unleashed, perhaps after some of life’s other priorities and responsibilities have been addressed, and pursued with the benefit of experience and maturity. Two long-time friends come to mind when I ponder this. Hilda Demuth-Lutze is a friend from college days at Valparaiso University (Indiana) who is the author of historical novels for young adults. Mark Mybeck is a friend going back to grade school in Hammond, Indiana, whose band, Nomad Planets, is creating a niche for itself in the Greater Chicagoland indie rock scene.”
Thirty years ago, as I approached my final semester of law school at New York University, I accepted an offer to join the New York Legal Aid Society as a staff attorney after graduation. For me, it brought together two things near and dear to me: First, to work as a public interest lawyer; and second, to stay in New York City.
I had spent the previous summer working at a large commercial law firm in Chicago. Although the firm would extend an offer to return as a full-time associate attorney, I realized that my heart was not in corporate law and kindly declined. I wanted to work in the public interest sector, and so I applied for jobs across the country with legal services organizations, public defender offices, and a variety of other non-profit and public employers. Although NYU was very supportive of students who wanted to do public interest work, these jobs were in heavy demand among young (and not so young) do-gooder types. I knew that I had my work cut out for me.
My job search stretched across the country, but New York was my top destination by a huge margin. I had moved there from northwest Indiana to attend law school, and I fell fast and hard for the city. New York of the early-to-mid 80s was a city in transition, emerging from a previous decade steeped in crime, urban blight, and corruption. It was an awesome, gritty, sometimes overwhelming place to me.
In many ways, going to law school in New York was like a study abroad experience, in that I kept discovering its endless nooks and crannies on a shoestring budget. It was still possible to explore and enjoy many aspects of the city on the cheap, with an occasional splurge or two for a show or a nice dinner.
Anyway, good fortune would smile upon me, and I spent my final semester of law school knowing that my immediate future was set. I graduated in the spring, took the bar exam over the summer, and started at Legal Aid in the fall. Between being ousted from the NYU law dorm and my $20,000 starting salary, I was propelled into the apartment share hinterlands of Brooklyn. It would be many years before my paychecks yielded more disposable income, but at least I was in a city that captured so much of the world. Armed with subway tokens, travel guidebooks, and a credit card that I tried to use judiciously, I took a lot of New York “staycations.”
Yup, this takes me back some 30 years, and that realization does a number on me. Though concededly I was quite clueless about so many things back then, this was a very good chapter of my life. Sometimes, even memories filtered through rose-colored lenses of personal nostalgia can be pretty spot on.
The other day, my long-time friend and law school classmate Patrick sent me a couple of photographs taken thirty years ago, from a camping trip at the start of our third and last year at NYU law school. It was the beginning of the fall semester, and the onset of classes had triggered a bout of cabin fever so intense that five of us piled into Patrick’s car and headed for the Catskills.
This may sound like an odd thing for a law professor to be saying, but my reaction to the start of classes was so acutely resistant that even I — a budding city dweller in the making — was willing to forgo the niceties of the law school dorm in order to escape the world of casebooks and classes.
You see, unlike my outdoorsy law school friends, I was not a regular camper. Actually, I wasn’t a camper, period, and I haven’t been since then. It’s not that I’m a high maintenance traveler. In fact, between summer storm chase tours and countless trips to New York, I’ve stayed in places that won’t be listed in any premium travel guidebooks. But when it comes to accommodations away from home, I do strongly prefer (1) a bed to sleep in; and (2) indoor plumbing.
I don’t remember a lot about the trip itself, though I know that we all got along together just fine. I also seem to recall a couple of loud guys camping in an adjacent plot who had too much to drink on multiple nights, but maybe that’s just a ritual memory of every camping trip, whether it actually happened or not.
Anyway, after a few days in the wilderness, we folded our tents and returned to the urban jungle. Soon I got back into the law school swing of things, and it would prove to be a good and meaningful year, with some fun and laughter mixed in with the work.
Wow, it has been thirty years since my last year of law school. I’m sure the muse of nostalgia will cause me to write more about that time during the months to come.
This morning I clicked on a Facebook posting from New York University, my legal alma mater, to a short piece about dorm living for law students. A photo of one of the NYU Law dorm rooms (see below) reminded me once again that many universities have upgraded their residence hall accommodations considerably since back in the day, especially in terms of private rooms and bathrooms. (Of course, this has contributed significantly to rising tuition costs, but that’s for a more serious post….) In any event, the article sent me into a brief trip down nostalgia lane.
In many ways, dorm living tends to look better mainly with the passage of time, at least when it comes to furniture, décor, and creature comforts. During college at Valparaiso University in Indiana, I lived in dorm rooms throughout my stay, first in Wehrenberg Hall, and then in Brandt Hall, two rather plain vanilla buildings built sometime during the 50s or 60s. The VU dorms were typical of undergraduate dwellings of their era, offering small shared rooms with pullout beds and bathrooms down the hall. During my last year of college, I qualified for a shared Brandt Hall first-floor room with a private bathroom, a nod to the fact that I was a good student who managed to stay out of trouble.
In the photo above, I’m standing in front of my desk. The boxes and papers to the right obscure the mattress of the pullout bed. I was packing my boxes at the end of the fall semester of my senior year, in anticipation of departing after the holidays for a final semester in England. My roommate Chris’s furniture configuration was exactly the same, the main difference being that he was a very disciplined and neat pre-med student who periodically and politely would push my growing piles of books and papers to my side of the invisible Mason-Dixon Line, as we jokingly called it. Every evening, when Chris would dutifully turn in after watching the Johnny Carson monologue, I would gather my books, papers, and — if necessary — typewriter to join other more nocturnal students in the cafeteria, which served as a nighttime study hall.
When I got to NYU in 1982, I had a much fancier address, Hayden Hall at 33 Washington Square West (yes, that Washington Square). The toney Greenwich Village exterior masked the spare accommodations similar to those of my collegiate days, with a few New York cockroaches tossed in as free bonuses. At the time, Hayden Hall was the primary dorm for first-year law students. A converted old hotel, it had a few interesting nooks and crannies in addition to the drab rooms. Its first floor cafeteria and TV room provided opportunities for breaks and socializing.
I would spend my second and third years of law school living in NYU’s Mercer Street residence hall, a (then) brand-new building featuring small apartments with individual bedrooms and kitchenettes. While I didn’t do much cooking, the fridge and stove made it possible to store and heat up Chinese take-out and delivery morsels. With some physics-defying moving around of beds and furniture, apartment units could host pretty decent parties, replete with room for dancing to Michael Jackson, The Clash, and other 80s music artists. We also had waifs’ Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for those of us too far or too broke to return home for the holidays. The Mercer dorm provided my nicest accommodations during 12 years in New York.
In fact, they remained among my nicest digs ever until I moved into my Jamaica Plain, Boston condo in 2003. For the longest time, I was satisfied with a sort of enhanced “grad student” standard of living. It took me until well into adulthood to do an upgrade!