Monday, February 13, 2006

The effects of college roommates on life plans

VILLANOVA, Penn. - Exactly why my mother was so hot on my going to Villanova University (where it was very expensive) instead of SUNY Oswego (where I had a Regent's scholarship are set to go) is still a little hazy.

Maybe it was because it was a Catholic college. Maybe she wanted me where the drinking age was 21 (not that it slowed anybody down at Villanova). Maybe she knew she was throwing me into the deep end of the pool.

That's how I learned how to swim in Lake Chautauqua - sheer panic when the water was over my head and the end of my dock.

But my first encounter at Villanova of real note was walking into a dorm room that was eerily similar to the one with today's blog. Four guys, a couple of dressers, no closet at all and some desk/tables left over from WWI.

I had three roommates, Jim Rawlings, Doug McDowell and Chris Ralston. Rawlins was a Navy ROTC guy and spent most of his time smoking cigarettes and dropping the ashes down from his top bunk on my head at night. Doug McDowell was a psychology major (like me) only because we had to put something down on our registration cards. Chris Ralston was an engineering major and studied harder than the rest of us all put together.

Amazingly there were few fights or even arguments. Given the size of the room, you might think otherwise.

But if someone was restless in the night and couldn't sleep, well, nobody slept well.

Ditto for someone getting sick. In a few days, all four of us would be hacking and wheezing and screaming.

Of the four roommates, Ralston (yes, we called him Purina sometimes), was the one who made an on-the-mark prediction about me in one of those late night, sucking-down-beer sessions. (The beer sessions were not only illegal, possession of alcohol meant sure expulsion from the University.)

We each guessed what profession we would end up in. Ralston, of course, was going to build giant buildings and bridges as an engineer. Rawlings was going to be some kind of career military guy. Doug was just hanging on (as was I) to see what the world brought.

I was clueless and could only predict what parties I was going to head to on the weekends. A life plan? Please.

But Ralston looked at me over the top of a Rolling Rock and said the word: 'Journalist.'

"You're one of those guys that just won't stop asking questions," he said.

(He might have said, 'one of those assholes,' but if he did, I've chosen not to remember it that way.)

We all laughed, because I was the one always asking why thing were done the way they were at the university - not a popular thing with the priests that ran the joint and believed the everyone should bow to authority, ecclesiastical or university-wide.

When we had a massive food fight in the cafeteria - and later a strike over the bad food served in the central dining facility - I was the one who called the campus radio station with on-the-spot reports on what dorms were throwing what kind of food out of what windows at the security guards trying to quell the near-riot. Amazing what a mess a jello fruit salad makes when it hits a cop's blue uniform.

I lost track of the guys after a few years. Rawlings left school (as did I) quite prematurely. I hope that Vietnam didn't get him. It wasn't until this moment writing this that that awful thought occurred to me.

I'll wager that my other two roomies graduated from Villanova and are getting ready for their 40th high school reunions just like us. In just four years from now, it will be 40 years from the date when I would have graduated from Villanova with them, if I had paid a little more attention in the classroom.

No, make that a lot more attention.