At TCNJ's open house, our hectic morning started by parking behind Loser Hall. They say you only have one chance to make a first impression. So I thought that whoever endowed the university with enough money to get an entire building named after them, should have at least bypassed their actual name and used a nickname.
I graduated thirteenth grade in June 1977.
I scurried onto the empty train. Just my luck, it was one of the few old-fashioned trains left, (see photo above). The unheated cars were filthy and smelled like stale urine. The hard seat covers were made of plastic, straw-like strands woven together to look like beads. Most of the seats were torn and it hurt to sit on them. I was willing to sit on the sharpest edge but the bee-hive of rats was only a hundred feet away. So, because the doors remain open until the train was ready to leave, I reluctantly trudged through three cars to the center of the train.
I was breathing hard as I collapsed in the corner seat. A heart attack crossed my mind as I thought I was going to faint. The doors closed for a split second and reopened as another passenger squeezed through...it was Professor Eric Donaldson. My morose mood vanished and my spirit brightened. I staggered over and introduced myself. We hadn't seen each other in a year so Donaldson pretended to be insulted because I thought he had forgotten me.
The early part of our conversation concerned itself with my failure to break into TV, my new career path and impending move to Las Vegas. When I was done, he told me that his life-mate had just committed suicide. In the few minutes of our ensuing conversation, my distress was forgotten. When the train slowed down at First Avenue, he got up and said, "Casinos are a baby of an industry...its like TV in the early 50's. Don't look back, few people make it big in TV. I think you're going to beat the system and do real well." We shook hands and he left.
I felt renewed. Looking back, I bet that's the exact moment I transformed into an adult. I sat back down and relaxed. After the Wilson Avenue station and before Broadway Junction, I stood up and walked to the first car. I was staring out the front window trying to pull my future closer when the train burst out of its black subterranean hole, rose up into the sunshine and became an elevated train.
Wherever Professor Eric Donaldson is now, I hope he reads this because he was right; I did beat the system. Casinos have kept me clothes for over thirty-two years and that's more than most of my contemporaries can say. As for Andrew, I just hope that his reality of; the more things change, the more they stay the same, comes true. Because I sense that he won't experience thirteenth grade, whether he attends Watzamatta U., Whippy Tippy U., TCNJ or a school we haven't checked into yet, like Rutgers. He is on the right track, destined to have a far greater purpose in life than I am capable of imagining.