Hanover, NH—A couple of weeks ago, a man in an official-looking chartreuse vest asked me if I wanted a job. I didn’t, actually; I was busy trying to stay warm outdoors in 18-degree weather, and keeping track of the girls, who were ice-skating in opposite directions on a large and crowded pond. But the man was a hard-working volunteer and it takes a village and all that, so I said yes.
“I need a bodyguard for the moose,” he said.
The poor moose (a young woman in an inflatable suit representing Dartmouth College’s unofficial mascot; they use the moose since the official mascot is The Big Green, and a color is harder to anthropomorphize) was being attacked, he said, by 10-year-old boys who were treating her like a Bozo-style punching bag and even worse, unzipping her backside to deflate her.
I introduced myself to the moose, who was enthusiastic about my arrival, and cracked some jokes about the guy in the vest spotting my bad cop tendencies. She was not being paid, she said, but believed she would get a free meal for her “work,” which consisted mostly of posing for pictures and dancing.
My head swiveled in all directions like a deputized secret servicewoman as I flanked her, alert for sudden moves from the crowd. There were no 10-year-olds in sight, just an acquaintance from our ski mountain walking by with his kids.
“I’M GUARDING THE MOOSE!” I shouted, trying to be heard over painfully loud music blaring from giant speakers nearby. He looked at me the way people do when they’re extremely well-manned but they think you’re batshit (a subtle, masterful thing, widening eyes measured in millimeters), and kept walking.
Of course they tapped me to guard the Dartmouth moose, I thought as I secured her perimeter. Dartmouth loves me. It treats me like one of its own.
Pete (Dartmouth ’93) and I (Fresno State, ’92) met in a San Francisco elevator, not on a leafy college campus. So it was with huge amusement that we began receiving Dartmouth alumni mail addressed to us both, worded as if I had graduated with him, after we attended his 15th reunion together. When we got to his 20th reunion, I was listed on their official rolls, meaning I got my own Dartmouth green sweatshirt. (Or maybe that was the bathrobe year. I have a bathrobe and a sweatshirt.)
It is impossible to know what transpired at the 15th reunion to lodge me in the official campus consciousness, because the details are too fuzzy; we really embraced college life that weekend. We slept in the dorms, we stayed up very late eating delicious, high-sodium chicken sandwiches from EBA’s (just nod your head and don’t ever ask what EBA’s is), and at one point, we even went to different parties because I was sort of busy with my new friends and said I’d meet up with Pete later, which may have happened, not sure.
In roving packs of alumni, we visited multiple fraternity houses, playing beer pong and searching for habitable bathrooms, the houses’ current occupants unfazed and welcoming. I got acquainted with some of Dartmouth’s geography, history, slang and general life. By the end of however many days we were there, I was exhausted, bloated and delighted at this brand new-to-me world. Belatedly, I got in.
Some people realize aspects of their dreams vicariously through their children. With respect to college, maybe I’m living some of mine through my husband. Although to be completely accurate, a college experience like Pete’s was beyond my dreams. As the first person in my immediate family to earn a university degree, my degree was my dream. There was no being picky about where it would come from.
Watching after-school specials with families taking teenagers to visit college campuses, or families driving freshmen to campus and setting up their dorm rooms, I’d snort with laughter, thinking that was as accurate a depiction of life as The Jetsons. Three thousand miles from the Ivies, I knew there were colleges that presumably looked like that in real life, but I didn’t quite believe people acted like that, with such involvement. No one I knew of was having any experiences like that.
After getting expelled from high school at 16 for excessive ditching (I was bored, short-sighted and unsupervised), I took and passed a graduation equivalency test, then rode my bike down to the local community college and signed myself up for classes. I also got my first job, washing dishes at Roger Rocka’s Music Hall, later moving up to bussing tables, then serving.
After a few years studying at Fresno City College while working restaurant jobs and also doing a bunch of child care/nanny-type stuff on the side, I earned enough credits to move on up, riding my bike to the other side of town, where Fresno State loomed like the comparative Taj Mahal. The paperwork was daunting, but I figured it out.
Fresno State was home to 20,000 students and I was thrilled to join their midst. Tuition was $365 per semester, and my mom said she’d split the cost for that and my books with me. My share in total was almost a month’s rent – yikes! – but that’s what I was working for. (Yes, $365 dollars, though it had doubled by the time I graduated, which horrified me – $750 a semester seemed like highway robbery, and an unsustainable rate of increase. Which is now too quaint for words.)
With only one exception, my professors in the journalism department at Fresno State were so absolutely wonderful and taught me so much and prepared me so completely for my chosen career that I consider my education to be one of the greatest bargains of modern civilization. Flynn, Zelezny, Tucker…I still think of you with admiration and gratitude.
I wouldn’t trade the experience (because if I did, I would not have Pete, Anna and Whitney). But it was not the bucolic frolic, fully-funded, Nobel laureate-heavy, Lilliputian class-size experience Pete had. It was a full class load on top of a 25- to 35-hour restaurant work week, juggling assignments and homework with shifts, scrambling to cover my share of apartment expenses, my car and insurance. My Honda Civic had over 200,000 miles on it, and towards the end I had to turn it off at red lights because it kept overheating. My gas budget was $5 per week, for economic and environmental reasons, and if my tank ran low I rode my bike for the rest of the week. I had all that college tuition to pay for! I was also saving up for a graduation present to myself: a Eurail and hostel-type summer in Europe.
My hours were ungodly: as a journalism major, there were also hours of reporting for the weekly campus paper, then later, essentially a third full-time job as editor of the daily campus paper.
That is not to say I was too busy to make any bad choices, to use the current parlance. With the gift of youth and stamina I engaged in plenty of ill-advised extracurricular excitement. But the lollygagging and debauchery had to be shoehorned in around earning paychecks, pursuing good grades and reporting, writing and editing.
Now, we live close enough to Dartmouth to spend regular time there. Many of Pete’s friends and fraternity brothers remained in the area, so we have a friend network with whom to hang out and enjoy homecoming tailgating and other campus events. At homecoming, graduates of all ages stroll the campus and community, often with family members from generations older and younger than their own, wearing dark green jackets embroidered with their graduation year and other logo wear. There’s pride and contentment in the air. People look like they’re living well. They look like the people on the after-school specials.
So…the moose bodyguarding! I stuck close to her for quite a while, and no mini thugs materialized. Eventually I drifted away to gather the girls and get on with the rest of our day; it was winter carnival, and when the skating party ended we planned to hit the campus chili cook off, buy our annual carnival poster and inspect the ice sculpture competition on the campus green.
No sooner had I hiked up the hill to pull the girls out of the Hogwarts ice luge (the theme for the 2017 carnival was Harry Potter) when I glanced back and saw the moose under attack. In a flash I was at her side, zipping up her inflated moose butt, literally batting away the thugs’ hands, making stern eye contact and barking “NO TOUCHING THE MOOSE!” repeatedly. Little shits. I’ve got your back, Dartmouth. Somehow it feels like you’ve got mine, too.