The College Boy

LODI, Calif. – Funny the places you find yourself, such as Lodi, which I know only as some sort of punchline in a Creedence Clearwater Revival song.

Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again…

Really, I can leave any time. But that means the college drop off is over, and I’m stretching this final parenting experience as best I can.

What do you do when, as a widowed shepherd, you’ve just dropped off your last sheep? And he’s hardly texting you at all.

I guess you get back on the 5 and fly, like the Canada geese, toward the south. That’s my nav system, these majestic migrating geese. I’ve been following them this whole trip, though I did notice one V-formation heading north for the winter.

Lesson learned: Don’t randomly follow Canadians anywhere. Nice folks, to be sure, yet they openly pursue the ice and snow; apparently their geese are no smarter.

Honestly, most Canadians are a half chromosome away from being polar bears.

Speaking of the cold, yes, I’m lugging home the mini-fridge… the one I warned Rapunzel about.

“Too big for a dorm,” I’d told her.

As it turned out, I was right. Certainly, nobody saw that coming.

Now it’s up to me to schlep it home, then back to Best Buy, where they’ll reject the receipt because it was purchased with Rapunzel’s card.

For a moment, I thought about keeping the fridge for the Man Cave I’m about to build in the basement. But that seems a year away.

All my plans seem a year away.

Look, I’m just happy Smartacus is happy. He chose well. This Oregon campus gives me the same warm and fuzzy feeling I get from Louis Armstrong records, or whisky neat on Christmas Eve.

I won’t lie: I drove home with a scrunched face, like a man who can’t quite muster a sneeze, not crying but neither was I fully OK.

To boost my mood, I treated myself to a night in this Best Western in Lodi, the one directly across from Carl’s Jr. As you would expect, it was quite nice.

First, there was the full line of Best Western beauty products, the conditioners and the soaps, in copious amounts, since they don’t really do anything.

Then the bed sheet had a blood spot, as if there had been a stabbing.

Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again…

I didn’t care. I just moved to the other bed, which appeared to have no blood at all.

Look at me dealing with disappointment so well.

Now lots of friends are asking: “So what are you going to do now?”

I tell them I’ll do what I’ve always done – mostly nothing. I’ll start each day with  my morning martini, then attack the day head-on before knocking off a little early to watch “Ellen” (she has the best guests).

In the Central Valley, meanwhile, along Interstate 5 — always a rolling river of commerce and joy — the farm trucks keep spilling tomatoes when they exit, so that there are perfectly fine semi-ripe tomatoes lined up along the shoulders of the road.

What a country.

Please note that this also happens during garlic harvest, and if you time your trip through the Central Valley just right, you can come away with the fixings for a perfectly fine soup or chili. Or a gigantic Bloody Mary, which might be my favorite vegetable of all.

Admittedly, my head is kind of a swirl right now, and I think of the quip I heard the other day: “I wish there were a way to decline an incoming thought.”

Incoming thought No. 1: What now? Who cares, really? Truth is, empty nesting is a bit liberating for everyone, kids and parents alike. It’s the pets you really worry about.

When I finally arrive home, White Fang thinks I forgot Smartacus somewhere – a Target store, a ball game, a rest stop…

Right now, all I want to do is hug and reassure her.

Look, she’s a beautiful Siberian princess, with an enviable life. But I’ve always talked to her a little too much, as crazy people do with their pets, and now it’ll be a full-blown humanities class of ideas and suggestions.

Poor White Fang.

“How’d I get here?” she wonders. “I was a pup among many, then one day this dude (my older son) shows up and whisks me away to this insane family, where the mom acts like Charlemagne and the dad thinks he’s some sort of cul-de-sac Confucius, trying to decipher his dull and senseless life.

“As if anyone can make much sense of senseless things,” she adds with a sigh.

As my buddy Paget put it the other day, more succinctly: “I love the ongoing tension between how good you are at writing but bad at life. I love you.”

He doesn’t really. Paget just said that to soften the hammer-blow of what he’d just said, which is absolutely spot-on. And I appreciate that.

Hey, I’m just one mustachioed little man trying to make sense of senseless things. Think Ted Lasso.

Meanwhile…

I keep tabs on campus life by following the Oregon Parents Facebook page, a huge resource of rumors, angst and general parental unrest.

Hey, if you’re feeling washed out emotionally to begin with, you can always wash out even more on Facebook.

God, we parents are a hot mess. Wobbly. Heart-sick. I suppose our empty-nesting anxiety is a measure of our love and devotion, but I keep telling myself that past generations of 18-year-olds went off to hellish world wars. These days, we’re upset because the dorm wi-fi is a little sluggish.

My own son calls me twice on Monday, the first day of fall classes. And he texts frequently, actually.

I think he is adjusting well. But he’s a boy. Would he tell me if he weren’t?

My sister, a college professor, tells me that this generation of college boys is the best she’s ever seen. They are kinder, she says, and more tolerant. Just generally more decent all around. Yet, the media portray them as a generation of lost souls.

I agree with my sister. These are the best young people I’ve ever seen.

Yet even they are a little overwhelmed by the corn maze of new technology they face, the iClickers they need to purchase and can’t find, how the meal plans work, the cards … all the class codes.

“What’s an iClicker?” you ask. Just a device, like a TV remote, that you use to respond to questions in class. And apparently the bookstore just ran out of them.

So what? This isn’t war. It’s a gorgeous American college campus. Such a gift.

Thank you, Posh, for all you did to get our son here. Really, you’d be super proud of him. Hey, you hear about the mini-fridge? Your kids, I swear. You’d be so proud of all of them. And there’s this grandbaby now. Almost as pretty as you.

Final story: The other morning, a Facebook mom shared how her son went to pieces one day at the campus Panda Express. Hadn’t eaten, super hungry, and Panda Express kept rejecting his meal card – reject, reject, reject.

As he’s starting to melt down, a long line of hungry classmates stirring behind him, two University of Oregon football players stepped up and bought him his meal.

So, these college kids are pretty amazing, all right.

Which is why we’ll miss them all the more.

17 thoughts on “The College Boy

  1. Hilarious comment from your friend Paget, but I have the sneaking suspicion (a hope actually) that you are far better at life than you let on. As a 3-year Lodi resident and employee of the school district, I will tell you that it’s full of wonderful families and outstanding educators, and vacillates between identifying as the wine country, a central valley mainstay, or as some called it back then, “the outer bay,” full of crazy commuters to SF. Welcome back to LA. Go and build that man cave now.

  2. Damn these allergies! Thanks for another beauty. Posh is proud of all of you, I know. Can’t wait for the next installment of your and Catty Cakes’ and White Fang’s next adventures. Smartacus will phone his in, too.

  3. Chris, regarding…Now lots of friends are asking: “So what are you going to do now?” would you ever consider being the new commissioner of the Baseball Reliquary? A fine organization as you know and in need of reviving. Just a suggestion. You’d make a fine commissioner.

  4. Have a cold beer and enjoy your quiet house , take the dog for a walk , rinse repeat
    Thanksgiving will be here soon, stay off Facebook

  5. cul-du-sac Confucius? Brilliant! Sometime, I’ll send you a spreadsheet detailing my daily schedule, including optional nap! I tell everyone that I’m listening to KCRW.

  6. With you all the way my friend. Launched a couple of boys myself (OK, it was Debbie who really whipped them into shape). But, I still miss them, 1300 miles away and “living their best lives now” as the saying goes. You can only do what you can only do, then pray it was enough.

  7. The pictures say it all :the detritus of daily experience becomes the glittery little stream-of-consciousness gems Chris strews across the page, like a pirate displaying his recent experience stash before his band of co-conspirators; which—although being virtual—we most surely are. He could write in a Motel 6 and make you think he was at The Plaza. White Fang doesn’t stand a chance. The doctor is coming home, and the patient is going to get treated. Fang should immediately ease the therapeutic tension by searching for, and finding, another canine with an intriguing and interested lady at the other end of the leash. You know, for those long, slow, absorbing walks in the early morning autumn light under the drifting falling leaves of the Sycamores. What else is there to do, along with the ritual busyness of everything else, when the empty random moments wax melancholy, absent, and disconnected? Beauty is the answer, as it so often is; and Fall is nothing, if not that

  8. Chris, so grateful for your writing. I hope you know you touch the hearts of many even though you we’ve never met. You say all the things we think but don’t say out loud. The empty nest is an adjustment. Give it time and you will settle in. You have many fans that are always rooting for you. New chapter and it will bring many gifts to you.

  9. Thankful you still write your column. Always enjoyed it when it appeared in the LA Times. You always have interesting insights on variety of subjects, daily living, your family and wonder dog, Fang. You can be poignant and humorous in the same paragraph. We’re the lucky ones who get to enjoy your talent.

  10. Perfect. Wonderful. Touching. I lack the words and humor to express the sentiment as eloquently as you do. Just dropped one off. Next in two years. Might have to get cat. Actually, I’m allergic to cats. Maybe a fish. Keep up the writing, for all of us. Thanks.

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