My latest little victory was yesterday as my wife Sue and I ran the gauntlet of my son Andrew’s move-out day, from The College of New Jersey, (TCNJ).
The little victory I was shooting for was simple…gather up Andrew’s belongings and schlep them home. We understand the big advantage we have over folks with kids hundreds of miles away or even across the country. I remember SLW telling me that part of his harrowing experience of helping his daughter move from the San Francisco Bay Area to grad school at Columbia, (in Manhattan) involved him carrying a sixteen metric ton box on the New York City subways…and then to her dorm…only to find out the carton was filled solely with shoes.
Andrew attends TCNJ, in the sleepy university town of Ewing. The school is far enough for him to feel that he is truly “away” and close enough for easy access. That easy access translates to an hour and forty minute drive, (seventy-five miles) on toll-free and generally traffic-free roadways. Considering the distance, cost and congestion other families endure, we are thrilled to come up, do our business and return home all in one day. Therefore the monotony we cope with while trekking through the New Jersey Pine Barrens is nothing compared to others, ala SLW going to Maine or Florida or their own special Idaho.
Andrew’s move-out (and move-in) days have been refined to a science especially since my friend Josè lets me borrow his hand truck, (making the heavy-duty, long hauls simpler and easier). These long hauls, if done by the rule of TCNJ law would mean parking in a designated, visitor approved lot.
I learned early in Andrew’s first year that toting his
|MY UPBRINGING N THE CANARSIE SECTION OF BROOKLYN AND EXPOSURE TO JOE VANILLA, (THE PATRON SAINT OF PARKING SPACES),HELPED ME UNDERSTAND THAT A MAN IS NOT JUDGED BY THE QUALITY OF HIS CHARACTER BUT BY THE QUALITY OF HIS PARKING SPACES.|
Through the ingrained joy of creative (illegal) parking, I found out that leaving my car behind the freshman towers next to the dumpsters, (ten feet from the back door) was the only way to go. I might have risked walking through swarms of bees, mosquitoes and flies (and frequently needed to scrape random crud off the bottom of my sneakers) but I saved tons of time, and wear and tear on my back.
This school year, (August 2013), on sophomore move-in day, I discovered that the new dormitory (Decker Hall) didn’t have the secret luxury of parking spots next to the giant trash bins. Nevertheless, I kept my eyes opened and discovered a hidden treasure trove of parking spots (only accessible to students and staff…and only in use when the student lot was full). Joe Vanilla would have been smiling down on me as I sought refuge there by ignoring a “DO NOT ENTER” sign and entering this nirvana-like island, (way closer than the mandated spots).
This year, I was confident that the rewards of Friday’s move-out day would be less difficult because Sue, Andrew and I knew the ropes. Plus, a week earlier, Sue had soloed up and took back a bulk of his clothes, (and to hand-deliver my boy’s third duplicate car registration…that’s right, I said third duplicate…but that’s an entirely separate matter).
On Thursday night, I went to bed early (11:00PM), to maximize my sleep and further assure alertness. Despite being torn between the anticipated happiness of having Andrew home for the summer (three months) and the actual torture of accomplishing this daunting mission, I feel asleep easily. Unfortunately, I woke up with a severe sore throat at 2:10AM. I had no previous symptoms so this cold hit me from out of nowhere.
I was in terrible burning pain and felt like I had swallowed bits of rusty razor blades. I got temporary relief from expectorating hairball-sized lumps of infectious loogy-ness but getting back to sleep was difficult. This process, along with alternating bouts of feeling hot and cold, repeated itself hourly until 6:10. At that point, I was up for good with the assistance of a woodpecker jack hammering just outside the window.
In addition to being sick, I was exhausted, cranky, bored and feeling sorry for myself. I made a cup of coffee. The warmth bathing my throat felt good…for a short time. To fill the next four hours before blast-off, I went for a power walk…only to return home, uninspired, after ten minutes.
I tried to go back to sleep so I watched an episode of “PERRY MASON.” Normally the show is a guaranteed sedative even when I’m into it? Isn’t it ironic how often we fall asleep while watching something we want to see on TV. But such was not the case this time. I suffered through the whole rigmarole, (I didn’t even have the consolation of guessing the right murderer, I wasn’t certain so I went with the philandering brother-in-law. Next time I’ll remember…when in doubt, always go with the frustrated butler).
The clock wouldn't move for me that morning. That's when I figured I'd eat something. I’m still not sure if you’re supposed to feed or starve a cold? Either way, I was fueled by the expectation that in all the excitement I might forget my plethora of mealtime meds so I made myself a mushroom, onion and cheese omelet. I’m not a breakfast person but later on, this seemingly unimportant decision proved to be a genius move!
I took a hot shower. I felt marginally better when we took to the road. I was in poor condition, spaced-out and therefore horrible company. Sue must have been really desperate for entertainment because she read me an article off her phone about the fifty unknown uses of cucumbers.
|IN MY FUNK, I BARELY ABSORBED THIS HIGHLY EDUCATIONAL TOPIC.|
It was difficult to concentrate on her story because I felt awful. Plus, in the back of my mind, I knew that Andrew was stressed-out by having two final exams that day, (the last day of finals week). We were halfway when he contacted us and said the first (most dreaded test) was over and that he felt good about it.
At the school, I yelled out, "SHAZZBOD!!" as soon as I saw all the chaos. It looked like the whole TCNJ student body decided to wait to the last day to move out. Far worse, my secret parking island was full-up and apparently common knowledge. Luckily the student lot was opened for the occasion. But the shear number of vehicles forced us to the second floor. On the way down, I saw my next obstacle was going to be the waiting line at the elevator because it was jammed-up with ant-colony, cargo-bearing, drone-like, pack-mule parents.
Andrew met us and took us up to his room. "Jesus H. Christ!" I declared. Apparently he was so enraptured by his studies, (which is good to a certain extent…after all, that’s what he’s there for), but no preliminary work had been done to make the move-out easier.
My boy’s living quarters looked like Yucca Flats after an atomic blast. Ugh, what a shambles, just imagine the ruins of a laundomat and a saloon from a movie western churned together by an earthquake! In this case, NOBODY could rationalize with a straight face that; Boys will be boys.
While he proudly informed us about his anticipated grades, Sue and I sifted through the rubble. Andrew was upbeat as he described the good feeling he had about the hard test he just finished. At the same time, his mom and I were half-scared that we might uncover dead bodies.
Under a thicket of never-ending dust-bunnies, fossilized Oreo cookies from September were unearthed. I flashed back to archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922 and imagined how he felt when he found King Tut’s tomb. However instead of finding valuable antiquities, I came upon coffee cups that were 90% encrusted by cement-like oatmeal. Rather than using a chisel, I agreed to take them home…with the caveat that if the dishwasher can’t handle the job, his irreplaceable Elmo mugs would be trashed.
If the coffee cups weren’t disgusting enough, under a moldy, damp towel that was squashed behind his dresser, I saw rats with picket signs protesting the current infestation of roaches. Seconds later, a scurrying mouse stopped long enough to vomit on top of an official-looking slip of paper before continuing into the bathroom. Upon closer examination, the wee rodent had blown-chunks on the first car registratiom that Andrew misplaced.
It seemed impossible but the bathroom was a bigger disaster area. The stink reminded me of a lethal chemical spill and entry should have been limited to professionals wearing full body condoms or hazmat suits. Sue had brought so many support items like, a suitcase, plastic bags, shipping tape and rubber bands but what she needed here was yellow crime-scene tape. My point was proven when I saw that same mouse had hung himself behind the formally white toilet.
I started piling heavy items onto the hand truck for my first trip to the car. In the meantime, Sue stuffed the suitcase and shoved loose items into a dozen or so trash bags. I was hoping that the fresh air outside would make he feel better but it didn’t. However during a rare lucid moment, I recalled Sue reading the computer article on the ride up. That’s when I knew I was really sick because I never interrupted her story about cleaning with cucumbers, warding off insects with them or using them as health and beauty aids…with any perverted jokes.
I headed back to the room via a shortcut. By accident, I came upon the dumpsters. There was a narrow strip of six cars, parked illegally against the wall…the veil of Joe Vanilla’s influence apparently goes beyond Brooklyn. I pined for one of those cherished spots…but it seemed someone had to die and leave it to you in their will.
|UNLIKE THIS POOR SOUL, THE GIGANTIC DUMPSTERS AT TCNJ WERE SO OVER-WROUGHT BY VERMIN THAT NO HUMAN WOULD DARE GOING WITHIN FIVE FEET OF IT.|
On my second trip down, the hand truck was bogged down with boxes of books while I balanced lighter cartons on top. Stupidly, I also lugged a sack of laundry (ala Santa Claus) over my shoulder. I exited next to the trash cans and noticed that there was no breaking into the blood-line of parking spots. While distracted, I hit a bump in the pavement and my precarious load toppled. Luckily after some adults walked around me, a student helped me get back on my way.
The competition to use the elevator was fierce. We love TCNJ because so few of the upper crust students have the “JERSEY SHORE” mentality however, the same can’t be said of their parents. On my way back, in the middle of being annoyed by aggressive, selfish people, I cursed them to myself as my head throbbed, my throat screamed out in agony and my first pangs of hunger were realized.
When I turned the corner to re-enter the building, all the great spots along dumpster row were still taken. But I felt like I had let the spirit of Joe Vanilla down because dozens of others had suddenly used their own creativity and secured illegal loading spots…on the grass, next to the dumpsters. Yes difficult times call for difficult measures. I saw the possibility of another few cars fitting in, so I did a quick U-Turn and hustled back to re-park.
The next few trips included lifting Andrew’s mini-fridge and microwave onto the hand truck. Then at the van, lifting them again and placing them inside. The much shorter distance would have been a pleasure except the painful tendonitis that nearly cripples me after shoveling snow or raking leaves was activated by the physical labor, (it feels like a metal spike is being drilled into my right elbow).
At the same time, Sue was doing her own dog work. Andrew's fan had already been brought down, so she was still coordinating bags in the hot stagnant air. She has dust allergies so she suffered the whole time in that stuffy room while being dressed too warmly. It was around three that we declared that we were almost done.
Andrew’s girlfriend Amanda came by. She told us about her final test and was really happy about being done. Soon Andrew came by. I told him my van was almost full so I suggested that he drive up on the grass so we can pack the leftovers in his car. He mentioned that he needed to also help Amanda with the last of her odds and ends too.
The four of us decided to have a quick dinner before going our separate ways. I was gassed by this time. It was going on 4:30. I feared the tedious commute especially the specter of rush hour traffic. Sue and I were starving as the kids left us to drop off their dorm keys at the AEB Complex and fill out a short form that attests that they left their rooms in proper order.
Sue and I, like two exhausted prize-fighters, sat in the van for a half hour waiting for them to return. Sue finally sent them a text message…they didn’t respond. I felt awful and was crashing to lower depths of sick and tiredness with every second. Sue felt grubby, spent and hungry too…except she had the added problem of having to be up at 2:00AM the following morning, for work.
The phone finally rang. Andrew said that the entire, sophomore, junior and senior class were being processed by four people. The system of handing over a key and completing a short form were also on two separate lines. He explained that he and Amanda were still on the key-return line but the second line for the disclaimer form was longer.
|AMANDA TOOK THIS PICTURE OF "MOVE-OUT MAYHEM." BUT ONLY A WIDE ANGLE LENS COULD CAPTURE HOW HUNDREDS OF IMPATIENT KIDS SNAKED ALL THROUGH THE AEB COMPLEX, AS IF TRAPPED WITHIN A PSYCHOTIC'S CORN MAZE, HOPING TO GET THE HELL OUT!|
At no point did I tell the kids how sick I was but fortunately Andrew said, “It’s senseless for you guys wait around…I’ll see you when I get home.”
Sue and I hit the road. The only thing more powerful than our hunger was our desire to be home, (Sue brought snacks for herself during the day but I would have shriveled up and died had I not had that omelet at 7:00AM).
The trip home took an eternity. We were slowed down but didn’t hit the big time rush hour traffic associated with Trenton and other high volume business areas. But once we got on Route 206, (a rural one-lane in each direction roadway) we were bogged down, at a snail’s pace, for the middle forty-mile segment back to Galloway.
On Sue’s suggestion, we phoned ahead and ordered Chinese take-out. I got hot and sour soup for my sore throat. Everything else didn’t matter. The other food could’ve been fossilized Oreo cookies from the Ice Age because I just slobbered it down.
Like I said, sometimes our little victories come at a high cost. But the pain and struggle involved in getting Andrew home for the summer was worth it.
A little while after we got home, Andrew pulled up. He wasn’t home more than ten minutes when he got a text from the professor who gave him the daunting first exam (that day). The message informed Andrew that he received a perfect score on that test, (120 points out of 120). Previously, Andrew had figured mathematically that he was out of contention for an A in the course…unless he got a super colassal score. That professor (talk about immediate gratification), was also kind even to reward my boy's effort by including in that text that Andrew earned his coveted A in the course.
What fabulous news! A few seconds later Andrew added, “That means, I'll have a 4.0 GPA this semester.” Wow, we're not talking about your run-of-the-mill Dean's List, we're talking perfection! Suddenly Andrew's bathroom tribute to Hiroshima and Nagasaki seemed insignificant. What a great pre-Mother’s Day gift it was.
I hope that my next little victory will be that Andrew's scholastic excellence develops into future prosperity and lasting fulfillment, (if so, I'll be certain to remind him to never piss-off his butler).
Andrew, congratulations are in order my friend because your accomplishment is NOT a little victory! Of course, bigger victories come with bigger consequences. I regret to inform you and the world, that your Elmo coffee mugs didn't pass the dishwater test...if you want one last look at them, the garbage men will be here tomorrow.