I am standing toward the front of an assembly, 100 people, semi-formally clothed. We are gathered along a breezeway in the Penn State Delaware County Campus Library. I am wearing an Oxford cap and a polyester gown. My father has lent me a pair of leather wingtips for the occasion, along with a pair of khaki trousers and a paisley-patterned tie.
Of the 18 students who are graduating, four have elected to take part in a massive ceremony at State College on December 19th. The remaining 14 range in age from 22 to 63. None of this morning’s 14 graduates are exceptional. We have arrived here because we have transferred credits, or spent four years commuting daily to this three-building campus. A few of us have returned here from State College, or scurried back after burning out on our own. The common denominator being, we are not world-beaters. And there is no valedictorian. Every graduate has been approved to deliver his or her own remarks.
I have been rambling for six minutes now, acknowledging my girlfriend, my mother and father, a veteran administrator who secured me a work-study job at the campus counseling center. I am uncoiling the microphone wire. I am wandering out onto the floor. Somewhere just beyond my sightline, I can hear a woman sniffling. I can see a bald man along the aisle who’s peeling a scab off of his arm.
“It’s nice to know you’re getting a little use out of that speech communications degree,” the graduate after me guffaws. And why not? My entire address was meant to celebrate the fact that – at the age of 26 – I have ostensibly matured. To that end, I have whitewashed any mentions of my academic probation(s), of my $38,000 student loan, of the medical records I initially forged to gain admission, of the sign language instructor who once threatened to take me in front of the university board, of the countless essays I have written for other university students, of an audio/visual room where I’d get drunk and sleep during the afternoons. I have put all of those distractions to pasture. Today I am being indoctrinated under a new rule.
We adjust our tassels. We march outside and toss our mortarboards. There is a reception in the lounge area downstairs where I pose for pictures. A favorite aunt compliments my hair “now that [I am] wearing it short.” Talia is here, and she remains beside me. Over the past 18 months I have come to rely on her a great deal more than at first. The two of us have even lived together, albeit briefly, sharing a one-story house in Sea Isle during the summer of 1999.
My parents seem so proud, and they have agreed to throw me a party … for relatives only. Talia, for her part, has agreed to do whatever I might like immediately following this morning’s ceremony. I have decided that we should go to Wildwood, where we can meet with old friends and revel in the cold. The two of us set out around 2:30. I am driving a Plymouth Sundance that has been handed down to me from my mother. Talia is napping in the passenger seat as I make the turn onto
I am listening to the Magnolia Soundtrack, considering why it is that the future looks so dark. I dare not admit that I have completed college for lack of anything better to do; that once a year I have been reenrolling to keep my student loans from lapsing (seven spring semesters bookended by a pair of falls). The problem – as I see it – is that I am running out of excuses. I have been on Monster.com. I have seen the caliber of positions that are available to a candidate like me. All of the descriptions read like gibberish, the type of language somebody uses when he is attempting to camouflage huge faults.
“We should pick up food,” Talia informs me. She is awake now, and I stop at Bubba’s Liquor in North Wildwood, completely missing the point. We have been invited to spend the night at my friend Ed’s family condo, which is located less than a half-block from the beach. Ed and I have known each other since the mid-nineties, a period during which we were both employed on Surfside Pier. Ed is tall (6’4), and he is constructed like a linebacker. He and his girlfriend are on-hand to greet us as we arrive at the front door.
We settle in. Ed orders cheesesteaks. Around 9 we take a taxi to The Shamrock, one of the only open bars in town. Upon our entry, a line of stools sits empty. There is a strand of garland hanging low across one wall. My friends are here – Brian Smith and his girlfriend, Kate (who happens to be Meghan’s sister); Mike D. and Gerry Vessels. There is a blonde from Bill’s Concessions here, a girl I messed around with back in 1997. I have invited her, unbeknownst to Talia, and this is the first of many issues that will affect the evening’s mood.
By 11 I am drinking whiskey. An hour later, Mike dumps his cup of beer over Talia’s head. Talia departs, and she is accompanied by Ed’s girlfriend. Shortly after, Mike and Gerry decide to pack it in for the evening, as well. We are five now: Kate and Brian, Ed, The Blonde and me. We ditch the bar and pile into Kate’s Pathfinder – the very SUV that Meghan’s father used to teach me how to drive. We chart a course for Surfside Pier, where there is nary a sign of life during the winter. We hop a chain, and we are meandering throughout Kiddieland when Brian hears an EZ-Go approaching via the garage.
There is a glint of light and everybody scatters. I corral The Blonde and lead her racing along the south side of the pier. We pass The Condor and The Sea Dragon. We pass The Amazing Maze, and then The Great Noreaster. We are negotiating a gangplank when The Blonde notices a squad car running parallel to us along the beach. “C’mon,” I say, and the two of us hop a gate into the water park. Once inside, we slink down low into The Lazy River, a 4-ft. waterway that has been drained. We follow it, eventually taking cover beneath the shadows of a footbridge. A second squad car comes to a halt along an upper-concrete landing. That car sits with its lights off as a swinging flood lamp sweeps the shore.
“What?” The Blonde looks over.
“You don’t think this is amusing?” I whisper. “The two of us getting stuck down here like this?”
The Blonde stands tall (5’9), and skinny, with rounded cheeks and clamshell eyes. She is from Connecticut, the only woman I have ever met who has actual money in her voice. The Blonde is wearing blue jeans, along with a denim jacket and a long-sleeve shirt. When I mention that the Lazy River still smells like chlorine, she places a middle finger across her forehead and sighs.
We wait until the police have vanished, after which we jump a metal rail out of the park. We high-step through wet sand beneath the pier, and then the promenade, before ascending a set of stairs at Seaport Village. We find a bench and dust ourselves off.
“What are you doing?” The Blonde asks. I have taken her left hand and I am blanketing it between mine.
“I don’t know,” I say. “This kinda seems like old times.”
The Blonde makes it clear that there was never an “old time” when the two of us held hands. And she is correct. Throughout the three-week period when the two of us were canoodling, matters would inevitably escalate toward the end of an evening, with The Blonde disappearing from my apartment somewhere in the hours before dawn.
I walk The Blonde back to her family’s house on East 6th Street. She runs inside and grabs some beer. When she emerges, we repair to a vacant apartment in the rental house next door. Once there, we sit and we drink. Around 4 AM the two of us lie down along a living room couch. I am spooning The Blonde now, and I pin her hair back; I kiss her neck. The Blonde ignores me before acquiescing. She leads me without words into a bedroom down the hall. We engage in light foreplay. We fall asleep until the break of day. The Blonde gives me a ride back to the condo on East 12th Street, where my thoughts deviate to finishing whatever beer’s left in the fridge.
(Moving On is a regular feature on IFB.)
©Copyright Bob Hill
Member, American Authors Guild