Last week, I spoke at a local university. Seeing the students, with their books and backpacks and floppy coats, reminded me of all that I miss about the college years.
For one thing, I miss the hours. When I finished speaking, at around 9:30 p.m., the kids were just getting the evening started.
I was ready to go to bed.
I miss that stamina. The nights that went until the bars or the coffeehouses closed, followed by all-night bull sessions in someone’s dorm room. In college, I used to do a radio show that began at 2 a.m. It began at 2 a.m.! It finished at 4 a.m. And I thought that was a good shift.
After it was done, my partner and I would go out for ice cream. This is another thing I miss about college — the ability to eat anything at any time and not wake up with a hornet in your stomach.
Where I went to college, we actually had guys called the sandwich men. They came through the dorms late at night selling sub sandwiches out of large coolers. One of their specialties was a meatball sub, a gooey thing with cheese melted into a mound of tomato sauce. Just thinking now about it gives me heartburn.
Back then I could eat two of them, go to bed for a few hours and wake up fine.
No. Even worse. I’d wake up hungry.
When records were vinyl
I miss the music of college. In those years, there was nothing more important than the latest record you had just bought. (Yes, I said record. Remember? Vinyl? Big black things? Shaped like pizzas?)
You would slice your fingernail through the shrink-wrap and pull out the LP with tender care, hold it by its edges, place it on the turntable. (Yes, I said turntable. Platter? Spins around? Come on. You can’t be that young!)
Unlike CDs, which you can drive your car over, you would check your LPs every day for scratches. (Scratches? Little lines? Oh, never mind!) You would hold the album up to make sure it wasn’t warped. Then you would place the needle into the groove and wait a delicious three or four seconds for the first sounds.
I miss that. I miss the size of the speakers. Today, you can get miraculous sound from tiny little boxes. Back then, the larger the speaker, the more impressive you were. I knew a kid whose speakers were so large, he slept outside his room.
(OK. So I’m exaggerating. That’s another thing I miss about college. Nobody called your bluff.)
On the first warm day of spring, we would open the window and shove a speaker the size of an Amana freezer onto the ledge. Then we would crank up the music so anyone within 43 miles could hear it. I’m not sure why. I think we just wanted to see if we could lift those things.
I miss that. I miss seeing a cute girl in a class, then having a nervous feeling in that class all semester. Come to think of it, I miss semesters.
I miss the smells of college, too. The musty books as you walked through library stacks. The wooden desks. The professor’s cup of coffee. The battle of fried odors in the cafeteria line.
The cafeteria! Loading up mountains of food, then complaining about how lousy it was. Of course, you didn’t feel like it cost you anything. You handed them a meal ticket and entered the line. When you leave college and start paying with cash, you stop moaning about your food. You don’t want to feel like you just blew 20 bucks.
Blowing powder smoke
I miss talking to my teachers. I even miss looking things up in books. There was a certain tedious joy in flipping through pages, then discovering, at last, the needed information, and racing to a copy machine with your dime.
Nowadays, you just hit search.
I miss the trouble we used to get into. One time, my dorm mates got into a war with the guys on the other side of the fire door. So we lined the crack under that door with baby powder, got out our blow dryers, and called the enemy over. Then we hit the dryers and blew the powder up into their faces.
I know. It’s stupid and juvenile. That’s what made it great. Anyhow, I was awash in all this college nostalgia the other night when I suddenly remembered something else. Years after graduating, I would still have these dreams. I dreamt that I had overslept for a final exam, and worse, I had forgotten to study. Even worse, I had never attended the class. And now I was going to fail and not graduate.
And when I ran into an old classmate and told him about this dream, he told me he’d had it, too!
So there must have been parts of college that weren’t so great. We just buried them, I guess, somewhere deep inside us. Same place we put the meatball subs.
Mitch Albom will sign copies of Tuesdays With Morrie at 7:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Barnes & Noble, Ann Arbor; 12:30 p.m.- 2 p.m. Wednesday at Fountain Street Church, Grand Rapids; and 7-8 p.m. Thursday, B. Dalton, Livonia Mall.