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Old college papers and stale memories.

October 22, 2013 The Wine Time Dad 0 Comments Category :

These days when I make the trip back to the Midwest I'm usually full of something other than dread. I find myself excited to be going somewhere in a car that I'm driving because it means I get to control the radio. More so, the fact that I'm going anywhere at all is what really excites me. Because having an infant and being in the middle of a fairly urban area means I don't get out as much as I would like to, especially after a three week long government shutdown. When money is an issue, you have to make do with homebase- something I'm still getting used to. You’re suppose to utilize the parks, free museums and whatnot. Not find excuses to stop in coffee shops or bars all the time..

Don't get me wrong, I didn't have enough spare change to be traveling all over the place before I came to DC either. But, back then it was the difference between going back to the States for the holidays or skipping the journey home and getting in several extra weekends of boarding. I know totally hard choices, right? It was only when those long trips back home were paid for by the kindness of my progenitors that made both options possible.

So there I am, in the rental, going through the mountains thinking of all the things I'll get to do and all the peace and quiet I'll get to experience when we pull into the driveway (my hometown is far less urban than DC). I'll go for one last swim in Lake Michigan (probably less polluted now than in the summer). I'll finish that book on popular psychology that I've had for over a year. I'll get some quality writing in- even work on a longer and more bad ass blog post than this (future) blog. I'll spend several nights at the local brewery. Most of all, I'll enjoy sitting in that jacuzzi my parents bought long ago while I was still over seas, and just stare up into the sky. I know, I know.. I sound like a pretentious ass, but the jacuzzi thing and the money that bought it is relatively new and may not last much longer. So, the idea is to take advantage of it when I can...

Zoning out in the mountains, I contemplate all the ways in which I'll enjoy the hot tub. During the day. At night. At night with wine. At night with whiskey. At night with a cigar and whiskey. At night with a bottle of wine and no swim trunks. During the day with no swim trunks... The possibilities were endless. And the quiet spaces in between dips in hot tub and the (probably) freezing lake, will be filled with just that. Quiet solitude (minus trips to the local brewery!).

I realize that I'm not going anywhere with this so I'll cut to the chase.. I totally did everything I just mentioned. Except for the reading and writing- that never happened. I did everything except those two things. Sitting in a hot tub naked is very liberating. Even more so when you’re enjoying expensive white wine.

There’s more to this potentially over long post than just my thoughts on a hot tub, though...

I don’t just like to go home to sit in the hot tub naked while getting drunk… Even if that is what it looks like I’m doing, I also sit in there to contemplate. To reset. I used to do that in Japan every week and the ritual had some necessary catharsis. I would sit in the natural hot springs (over there) and just be. Relaxing in the hot baths up in the mountains, it was easy to process your thoughts, go over the happenings of the day or week, reach of state of Zen, or simply fall asleep (coincidentally, you could also drink in the public baths in Japan J).. Unfortunately, there are no  温泉 おんせん (onsen- Japanese hot spring) in the Midwest or the on the East coast. I miss the 温泉.  And it’s that weekly ritual that I’ve not been able to replace in the States.

The point is that the onsens are magic and going home to sit in the Jacuzzi is my way of replacing that magic with modern technology. While the hot tub doesn’t have the same rejuvenating qualities I imagine hot springs as having, it’s location in the backyard serves almost the same purpose. At night, especially in the cooler months, it’s a good place to sit and think.

Fortunately (or unfortunately depending on my mood), home is also where my past, before I headed to Japan, resides. It’s where usually evanescent memories are moored and float around the place like incandescent lights. Lights that illuminate the windows of my greatest triumphs as a teenager to my lowest moments as an almost college dropout.

Yeah, I don’t just go home for the Jacuzzi and the finer wine that is stocked there, I head home to wander through my past and to remind myself how I’ve changed. (Get ready for another pure piece of metaphorical trite) And, I really do love to wade through those old memories because the great thing about the past is that even if it doesn’t change, our interpretation of it does.


While my fiancé was doing the responsible thing and packing the bags (my job is usually to hall them out to the car) and cleaning up, I decided to poke around my old room after sitting in the hot tub for the second time that day. Under my bed, I found the plastic storage bin filled with my old papers from college. More than I expected survived. I thought I had lost most of them. I mean, I knew they were there and I’ve thought about bringing them back to DC, but I always hesitate and decide against that. Besides, I know what’s in there… A record of the time in life when I blew the most money but got few gains, academically. Those papers are record of how much of an average performance I gave in college while attempting to prove that the candle can burned at both ends without consequence. They mark the trail from my last two promising years of highschool to end of my 1st senior year (in college) when I had an atomic blow out with two of my close friends and roommates. It's a path of barely turned in or late papers and lost opportunities and friendships.

Even the good memories are tainted by the person who wrote those papers. As if all the irresponsible partying leading up to that final explosion could be seen in the frantic and distracted words on the page.  My final year down at college (2nd senior year >_<) was quieter, somehow, as if still recovering from poison I'm pretty sure I spread. Maybe those years should've been erased but weren't, so I'm not allowed to use them as legitimate memories when talking about "back then"... That's how I feel. There like a bad memory but one necessary...

Yes. It's a box that should be labeled “Could've been”…

Going through the bin, there were a several more A’s than I remember, a lot of solid B’s (that I do remember), and a big handful of C’s (there were almost as many failed classes, too, but who keeps records of those). Now, I have a misremembered notion that I was far more intuitive and intelligent as a college student than I am now. I know that may not be true but it’s part of my self-deprecating nature to think that way… So, reading through some of the introductory paragraphs of the A papers, I thought I would rediscover some kind of brilliance. Something redeeming.


I was horrified. I mean, maybe they weren’t all bad but… Yikes. The more I read through the more certain I was that I was going to throw it all out before I headed out of town. There were words whose definitions I had used incorrectly. Awkward syntax. Misspellings. And, worst of all, typos! Strunk and White would’ve been horrified.

I started to sweat. All the memories from procrastinating and staying up all hours of the night before papers and finals were due came rushing back. All the anxiety of having to produce a coherent thesis after missing more than several classes all semester latched onto my back like a monkey. Those old panic attacks I used to get in the classroom were peering out at me from inside that container. The oppressive duty to participate and engage other people in public started to suffocate me. The fear that I didn't belong with all the clever more knowledgeable students in class, such that I should run away and hide from them. They would expose me and ridicule for all to see!

I could see the old me in those papers and the monster I was certainly becoming. That lazy misguided jerk who was more in love with the idea of university and the intelligentsia than he was with becoming one. The paranoid kid who used to drink too much every weekend to cover up his paralyzing fear of social interaction. The stubborn prick who used college and its atmosphere as a crutch to avoid the reality that I shouldn’t have been in college in the first place! The guy who was aware that he may be using his relationships as means only. Worst of all, on the pages of these old essays was the creator and saboteur of so many good many memories and friendships! What a scumbag..

And somewhere near the bottom of container was an old stained piece of paper.

At first, I thought it was a letter from someone else but as I opened it and read the first sentence, I realized what it was. That old weight settled on my chest... It was the nasty but mostly deserved letter I received from my old roommate and friend after he and his fiancé had moved out without returning my security deposit.

Even though the letter is more than ten years old and the information in it no longer pertinent to me, my heart started beating faster and my teeth clenched. The letter described me as I truly saw myself but would never admit to anyone. The drunk, childishly selfish, self-absorbed, lazy, good for nothing, fragile piece of shit that I was. I read the letter as the person I was and not who I am now... I could feel the words as he felt them. The letter was mean and over the top but them were the days and that’s what it was. That letter confirmed my innermost understandings of who I was.. How karmically fitting that I found it at that bottom of that box. A period at the end of a long messy sentence.

After finishing the letter, I read it one more time and sat there for a while. I imagined what it would be like if I ran into that guy again, nowadays. Over the years, since we parted ways, I had often thought about the same thing- what it would’ve been like to run into him. Everytime I imagined that scenario I imagined myself as someone better. Even sitting there in October of 2013, I’m still imagining myself as someone better.

I shake myself and put the letter back where I found it.

Funny how remnants of the past can still retain their power over us when we let them…

Ultimately, the incident that lead to that letter pushed me to get out of my hometown after I finally graduated from university. It also pushed me to the other side of the world. It inspired me to put myself in uncomfortable social situations, to take chances, and to become smarter about justifying myself. Even if that meant smartly justifying what made me bad and telling the dissenters to fuck off.

Yet, each time my self-serving debauchery would start to reach new depths, I would recall that time and that letter and reign myself in. Not because the words were harsh but because I knew they were probably true, and I was very reluctant to put myself in that sort of place again. I didn't afterwards and I don't want to, now, have to turn my back on a piece of my past with only me as the survivor because even if it's fun to start the fires, it's sad to see them die out. It's an easy thing to find yourself walking down that road, though, when self-destruction becomes an addiction..


My fiancé says I have white people problems and had she been privy to my thoughts while I was sitting in my room, she probably would’ve just shaken her head with a modicum of disgust and said, “White people…” I suppose that’s true on some level but that doesn’t diminish the power of my white people solution: the hot tub and Cakebread. 

Sitting there in the hot tub one last time before our departure, another memory comes to mind. The night my brother and I left a house party and dragged a stop sign (from a golf course- I would never steal a stop sign from a actual road) across the first and second hole until we got tired. We then ran home, got the blazer, and picked up the sign from the side of the road. That was definitely a good memory.

Hmm... Not all my reminiscing treads such dark waters...

Maybe I should lay off the Cakebread when sitting in hot water. It makes me lightheaded and nostalgic…

**This blog post has been brought to you by two strong cups of coffee**