I want to take a quick break from a busy few months to share a piece of my recent fiction. I’m working as an adjunct writing professor at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, NY, and also writing freelance and teaching ESL to Chinese students online. The following passage appears midway through a much longer project, and concerns a college campus and the competing heritages, both positive and negative, we encounter at institutions of higher education:
Perpendicular to the main two-laner that cut through the Winthrop State campus were a series of side roads, quieter to traffic but full of hustling undergraduates carrying books and backpacks, dressed in tight jeans and flat-brim hats, cardinal sneakers anointed with that famous free-floating brand-name lax swoosh logo tinged with frat-house-puddle-mud on the sides and soles, the students’ eyes rushed and their irises blank with tilled vexation. Desire be, desire kindle, desire go. A calm disquiet on the street. It can’t last. Three girls trudge with backpacks in hand. Every day he texts me, one says, but then he takes an hour to respond. It’s like, I don’t even know.
Mixed signals, another says. Classic fuckboy move.
The painted yellow lines were new, a happily-overworked custodian of the grounds having spent three days organizing and supervising the private firm the University had hired to make its roads more appealing for the spring semester. This was a yearly ritual the college’s administrators deliberated carefully and squarely on. Open houses, alumni weekends, sorority reunions, parents’ weekend, siblings week, another open house, various interviews with University Times Today and Collegiate Choice magazine and University Reports, two open houses back-to-back, the annual photoshoot, and finally senior graduation where soon-to-be-alumni get one last chance to remember how nice everything seemed there to carry with them in their future (high-paying?) careers.
Image. Lines re-painted. Stop signs added and removed. Truckloads of new sand to add a volleyball court. Re-pavement of the student parking lots. New concrete block walkways. Sweeping the sidewalks, trimming the overgrown hedges. Squaring the bushes, picking up Coke cans, Keystone Light bottlecaps, 3-pack Trojan boxes. Resealing Residence Hall windows. Tile floors glazed with finish. Drinking fountain faucets replaced. Graffiti painted over. A strange hill bulldozed. Branches cleaned up. Dog shit extracted and expunged. Graffiti painted over a second time, temporary 24-hour camera installed on premises. Controversy and student newspaper articles. Removal of camera, installation of signs and threats from suit-clad administration. Water-coolers installed, free paper cups to passer-bys. Signs advertising the Student Life Center, recently built from a large endowment to the university. Twin maps added to central-campus corners. Three more “Emergency Alert” telephones installed. Posters, papers, advertisements everywhere. A fifth and sixth open house, these ones open to entire families, trains of long-doored minivans from outside Richmond and rented Subarus from Williamsburg tunneled like ants through the newly-repainted central avenue.
And then there is the question of stadiums.
License the name. William B. Rhoads stadium. License the seats. License sections. License ticket endorsements. Uniform patches. Press-conference backgrounds. Then license the field—Sapphire-Sachs field at William B. Rhoads field. The naming license runs out. Hard negotiations and soft renewal. Cheap labor. The easiest sell, school pride. Public university. Higher education. Research- ornamentation. Publicity, at best. Taxpayers? Donor retention.
Enjoy your day 🙂