Things That Go Bump
MY FIRST DAY AT ALBION COLLEGE was a sunny Sunday afternoon in the late summer of 1967. My parents were helping me get settled in my freshman dorm. Mom sat on the corner of my bed as she tried to hide a bevy of tears that had come over her. She dug in her purse for tissues. I was the last of her three boys to leave home for college and I guessed this had something to do with her emotions. A few things must have been playing on Mom because wet eyes were not usually part of her temperament.
This should have been an easy transition for me, remembering I survived camp in the wilderness of the Upper Peninsula ten years earlier and then lived through the Detroit riots during the summer that found me grounded by my father because I decided to attend them. Let’s see, I could go to Viet Nam, and yet, still get grounded? It was without question a period of great change for me and I was more than a bit nervous about college. As we drove on I-94, I had that same sinking feeling in my stomach that I had when I was eight-years-old sitting on my steamer trunk waiting on the docks for the ferry in Mackinaw City.
I had been accepted at Albion on probation, thanking my lucky stars they were giving me a chance. Shadowed in my apprehension was my good fortune to meet another freshman, Ted Stringer from East Lansing. He made me feel right at home. Ted and I literally bumped into each other minutes after my parents had departed. I was wandering my dorm’s cavernous hallways and came upon a set of double doors curious as to where they led. I pushed on one of the doors and it happened to fly open bumping right into Ted. We both smiled, I apologized, and we shook hands introducing ourselves. It was the start of our friendship, a bond that has lasted almost fifty years.
We hung out later that afternoon sitting on the ledge of a brick and cement porch that connected two large buildings in the middle of campus. Within minutes, more freshmen had joined us. We boys all quietly ogled a perky blonde co-ed we noticed walking out on the sidewalk. She was an absolute beauty. She moved me into a new frame of thought which certainly erased my longing for my parents. Don Ambrose, a member of our newly assembled group, somehow knew her, reporting she was from Dallas. Her presence gained her goddess status in the brief time she was in our field of sight. Truth be known, none of us had much of a chance for her affection for she had been swept off her feet by an upperclassman who had the job of greeting the incoming freshmen. I might point out, I managed to secure the exact same job during the subsequent three years. I don’t recall having the same success as my predecessor.
I was finally in college with a personal goal of avoiding D's and E’s. This was seconded by Dad, agreeing it was a worthy goal. He attended Albion in the 1930s and demonstrated that it could be done. That was all I needed to know, it gave me some confidence. There would be so many distractions, females and long-neck beers right at the top of the list. These plentiful pleasures made achieving good grades an extreme challenge for me. Ted, on the other hand, had no trouble getting A’s. Failing a class was not in Ted’s worst dreams. Hell, his classes were hard too, chemistry and micro-biology, advanced stuff like that. I think he had been accepted in medical school the first month of our senior year. It was not until my junior year that I began to find that elusive balance between grades and my social life, and I noticed better grades started to come to me. Studying sure helped.
Both Ted and I survived fraternity life in different houses our sophomore and junior years, and by a fluke, as we were registering for classes our senior year, found that we both made some list allowing us to live off campus. We were delighted and on the spot decided to live together. We took a lease on a soon to be vacant house on Oswego Street. The current tenant was a mutual friend and he was heading to graduate school. The house was an absolute dump, more of a shack, but we loved it. The entire kitchen could be hidden away with the swing of a cabinet door. This became useful allowing a full week between washing dishes.
I must admit Ted was a most enjoyable and patient roommate. My girlfriend Cindi, on occasion, spent the night, sharing the lower bunk with me. It did not bother Ted in the least. Ted’s girlfriend Janie worked for the college in admissions and was always fearful she was being watched by administrators. This was good news for me as Janie could not be seen at our little house behind Miller’s Ice Cream. Ted thought it was always fun to have Cindi over. Their senses of humor were similar and both had distinctly nasal voices. They would get chatting about this and that as I was trying to fall asleep. I wished I had taped some of their bedroom banter so I could play the tape today. Wouldn’t that be fun. I never said anything like “knock it off,” as I certainly would today; having Cindi out of sorts would not have been a wise move during our courtship.
The last day of my senior year almost delivered a reversal of my good fortune. A phone call, a day earlier to our house from Dr. Hostetler, my independent study advisor, taken by Ted, never got to me.
“Tell Bob he will not march tomorrow if he doesn’t turn in his bibliography.”
This clear and concise message was left with Ted with the understanding that it would be urgently conveyed to me. Somehow, it became lost in the vacuous tomb of, “I forgot.” Ted had spent the afternoon at the Stag Bar on Superior Street. It was tough to blame him as we were winding down our four years and it was time to tune out academics.
I was struggling to get my overall GPA above a 2.0, a graduation requirement. I wanted to get into graduate school in business. Great relief came to me when the MSU application form only asked for my grades from the last four semesters. I mustered a 3.47 grade point average during the second half of college, and while my GRE test scores were a bit low, the combination was good enough to get my acceptance at East Lansing in the fall of 1971, on probation, of course. I was used to that. I only had one last hurdle: Supply the MSU business school my final grades from my senior year. It seemed so simple, requiring a Xerox copy of my transcripts and an eight cents stamp.
I ran into Dr. Hostetler in front of the Eat Shop the morning of graduation and he asked about my bibliography. I thought he was kidding. He was an affable professor with a nice sense of humor. He mentioned his phone message from the day before. I quickly comprehended what had happened, or didn’t in this case, and I apologized for Ted, and for me. The damn bibliography was his last bit of control that psychology profs seemed to delight in. I darted home and took out my Royal typewriter. Thankfully, I still had typing paper, carbon paper, and my four reference books from the library that were overdue. My parents were coming in an hour and I was frantically typing a bibliography. Ted went into hiding after I erupted. I had not so tactfully expressed my considerable frustration over the matter and his delinquency.
Don’t worry, it all came together.
I handed the typed page and two copies to Dr. Hostetler on the lawn of the Quad as we were putting on caps and gowns preparing to march in the procession. My parents never knew. Life is about recovery and it often is a last-minute to do.
Years and a couple marriages transpired for Ted and me after our college life and one of mine included Cindi. Ted had been living in Colorado for twenty years and was visiting my Leelanau farm in the summer of 2002. Our teenage sons were enjoying the day swimming in the pool and frolicking about the hilly farm in the red Kawasaki Mule. Such a blast. At fifty-three years of age I was beginning to have a shoulder issue that troubled my golf swing and I thought with Ted’s visit I’d have him look at my right shoulder and get some advice. You know, a free house call by my friendly orthopedic surgeon.
Ted put on his more serious doctor’s face as we stood in my living room in our wet bathing suits. He took his skilled and veteran hands and manipulated my right shoulder. I was most cooperative and compliant. I had my arm at my side when he directed me to begin to raise it over my head and I was to let him know when the pain level was most severe, on a scale of 1 to 10. I raised and extended my arm upward only to have the rotating blade of the ceiling fan hit my wrist.
“Ouch. Ten!” I cried.
Dust and debris fell over the two of us as we tried to comprehend what had just happened.
“Oops, sorry Bob,” said Ted. “We don’t have ceiling fans in our examining rooms in Colorado.”
We began laughing from our bellies, tears flowed from our eyes, we fell to the couch and doubled over. It took us some time to regroup after that mishap. After a period of recovery, we headed outside with a Band-Aid on my wrist and fresh beers in our hands.
It was just another bump in our relationship, further solidifying our long and enduring friendship.
Albion, Class of 1971.