NO TIME LIKE THE PRESENT TO RELIVE THE PAST

As I write this, I am about to fly to a college reunion. Not one of those formal blowout weekends, with speeches and slide shows and wine and cheese parties. No, just a reunion of a half-dozen guys I lived with during those four years, back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth.

To be honest, it’s not great timing. I have a million things to do at work, flying across the country doesn’t excite me, and more than once a little voice said, “Aw, heck, you could just back out. You’re busy. They’ll understand. What’s the big deal?”

What is the big deal? Why, every few years, do we hurl ourselves from the pressing present into the pretentious past? I sift through my memories, looking for an answer . . .

I remember the time, freshman year, when we had a parrot that we kept in our lounge area, and we came home one night to find the parrot had been stolen. And at 2 a.m. we were combing the campus, calling out the bird’s name. What did we expect? That the bird would answer us and say “Over here, fellas!”? Then again, we were freshmen.

I remember putting speakers in our windows and blasting music to the campus. I remember our first big drinking binge, a “booze cruise,” and how we vomited into trash cans. Classy, huh?

I remember cramming six of us into a car and heading into Boston to see one of our roommates play saxophone in a nightclub. He was black, the rest of us were white, and, as it turned out, we were the only white guys in the club. If you ever saw the movie “Animal House” where Peter Riegert yells out “Otis, my man!” and the whole club glares at him as if he just pulled his pants off over his head — that was us.

Paper footballs and food fights

I remember long nights in the library with my roommates, alternately studying and playing “triangle football,” where you flick a paper triangle across the table and try to get it to hang partly over the ledge. Hey. You could only read “Theory of Economics” for so long.

I remember basketball games, softball games, concerts and food fights. I remember three of us taking the same theater class, choosing the same topic, and writing, in essence, the same paper. And one of us got a C, one got a D and one got an F.

I remember one of our gang, a big, happy fellow whom we called Mendel, and how his roommate took it upon himself to write “Mendel is a bum!” on every desk he could. And you’d be sitting in some lecture hall and you’d look down and there it was, on your desk, “Mendel is a bum!” and you’d break out laughing.

College life.

A time for memories

I remember the girlfriends, the arguments, the teasing, the roughhousing. I remember fighting with the dorm dwellers who lived on the other side of our fire door. And how we spread talcum powder beneath the door frame and called them over, then fired up blow-dryers to shoot the powder into their faces.

I know. Silly. Sophomoric. But then, sophomoric — it’s a college word, isn’t it? Sure, now my life is filled with important matters, real work, mortgage payments, health issues, deadlines.

But as I think about it, these guys have remained my friends precisely because we share the silly, not the serious. Because we tell the same funny stories. Because we knew each other when we were at our happiest and most innocent.

When young people ask me about college, I always say if you can afford it, go away, live in the dorms, make college friends. They are unlike any others, forged during that brief, magical “in between” stage that straddles childhood and adulthood.

Sure, you’ll get older, and they’ll schedule these reunions, and when they actually arrive, it won’t be at a good time. But I realize two things: In my present, there is never a good time. And in my past, I never had a better time. Which is precisely why we make time.

And why I’m going.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 3-6 p.m. weekdays and “Monday Sports Albom” 7-8 p.m. Mondays on on WJR-AM (760). To read recent columns by Albom, go to www.freep.com/index/albom.

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