Packing Up Freshman Year

SACRAMENTO-ISH – Don’t know about you, but my dog has a panic attack the moment I pull out a suitcase.

White Fang has — as we all do — abandonment issues. The second she sees the faux leather, she knows she’s being left behind again. White Fang is really a gentle soul, almost angelic. She suffers – again, as we all do – from the presumptions people make from her rugged appearance.

Basically, she looks like a German Luger.

It’s the steely eyes, I think. She has the gaze of a Bond Girl, the kind with the wiry legs and the Eastern Bloc accent. A friend recently described White Fang’s eyes: “One given to eternal jealousy, the other to murder.”

OK, I can kind of see that. Doesn’t mean I don’t love her.

“Come on, get in the car,” I finally tell White Fang.

This time she’s coming along.

 “We’re going to the North Pole,” I tell her. “Got your passport?” She sits in the backseat peering over my shoulder at the road ahead. The North Pole has always been on her bucket list. Up the I-5 we go.

We’re off to fetch Smartacus, of course, her cheeky sidekick, her partner in grime. There is no good reason, other than her deep, spiritual love for him, that he needs to come home. Freshman year —  that pivotal year — over already.

Takes us a while, but finally we reach the state line. Oregon is full of clover, creameries and over-the-hill hippies … and the kind of lush mossy places they name salad dressings after. All that grass. They mow it, but it just grows back an hour later.

Compared to Oregon, every place looks in need of more rain and manure.

Speaking of manure, we almost creamed a cow. South of Crater Lake, all these signs say “BEWARE OF CATTLE,” but I’ve never paid much attention to warnings. After all, look at all the signs that warn ‘BEWARE OF DEER,” with that leaping stag. Do you ever see a deer? Almost never. Still, there are 4 billion signs of these Disney deer.

I just figured the same principle applied to cows, when suddenly there he is, standing six inches off the road. We woosh by in the Honda before we realize what has happened, that we almost clipped 400 pounds of Happy Meals. Talk about drive-thrus.

Pretty sure it was a bull, which I find pretty ironic. It’s about time someone creamed a bull. Turnabout being fair play, and all.

“Cowabunga!” I told White Fang.

Anyway, before long, we’re back in front of his dorm, the brick place where we dumped Smartacus nine months ago. Nine months – enough time to make a baby. Nine months – enough time to mold a man?

Smartacus comes down to greet us. As you know, college dorms are heavily secured these days, mostly to keep out the moms.

Confession: All college kids look like wild-eyed assassins to me…they all look like heretics or old photos of Patty Hearst. They need better haircuts, and their clothes don’t fit, or maybe it’s the half-off way they wear them. Or the way they saunter, never lifting their feet. No one saunters like a college kid. Except maybe a cow.


White Fang, of course, goes nuts when she sees him. Lick. Lick. Lick. Lick. Lick Lick. After a few more French licks, I have to look away.

Then a remarkable thing happens: As Bond Girls often do, she turns a cold shoulder toward the man she loves. Evidently, she is miffed at Smartacus for leaving her, upset that we had to drive all this way to retrieve him like this.

Poor White Fang, my Siberian hussy. Russians hold grudges, can you blame them? Look at their history. Look at their food. The only thing they have going for them is a bunch of surprisingly lovely tennis players.

“Come here,” I say, and hug Smartacus a little too hard.

After a year in Oregon, Smartacus smells like a logging truck. After a year in Oregon, he’s got toadstools behind his ears.

Nothing a sunny California summer can’t fix.

Up in his dorm room, I assess the mess. There is nothing of value here. Not even the loose change, which is so sticky with soda that we throw it in the trash.

We discuss just leaving everything, as a gift to next fall’s incoming freshmen. It’d save them multiple trips to Target for all the crud – the hot plates, the shoe trees.

And one t-shirt at a time, we begin to pack up his freshman year.

“You wanna take this?” I ask holding up a plastic something.

“What is it?” he answers.

“A shoe horn? A tongue depressor? Maybe a bong?”

“Sure,” he says.

Slowly, we pack him home.

Coming Saturday: Stirring my motel coffee with a toothbrush

7 thoughts on “Packing Up Freshman Year

  1. Congrats to Smartacus for successfully completing one of life’s grand challenges, Freshman Year. And kudos to you and White Fang for learning to live (at least 9 months) without him and still be happy. Thanks for sharing the joyous reunion with us.

  2. Your words and thoughts brought back great memories from Tulane and the University of Delaware. How I wish I could time travel back to more innocent times.

  3. The punacity of this one is word-curving, but you can see sound the corners. I used to “partner” with a Siberian, so I can attest to this estimate of their true nature. They are all push and pull, pushing to go (everywhere), and then to pull you along in the instant. The guy I had destroyed every obedience class he was in, and was invariably asked to leave before graduation. My greatest failure was my inability to avoid breaking up with laughter at some of his “antics”. Such academic failure ( on both our parts) did not scar his psyche, however, as he listened to me and generally (reluctantly) behaved as requested ; except when a strange dog was around. Then, he needed heavy stick-and-rudder to counter his instincts and invalidate the nickname a friend of mine gave him: “Lawsuit”. With kids he resembled a joyful bag of mush, all lick and wag and play, gentle as his look-alike. You are right in that the intense killer look goes with the trade. Even so, the trademark thrust of their persona mandates strength in their partner , so their corners stay rounded. As I quickly learned, a bag of mush has as many instantaneous shapes as college students do—especially freshmen. It’s going to be a long hot, beautifully variable summer, I think. And there’s Suzanne. Ah ! Wilderness…

  4. Wonderful. In a world full of ugly news, I cling to these blogs like Jack clinging to that piece of wood Rose insisted on hogging in “Titanic.” And while I can’t feel my legs anymore, I’m continuing to make my best effort to kick. We owe it to our kids. And our wonderful dogs.

  5. Wonderful to be called a friend, Chris. You got me beaming.
    And a good welcome home to Smartacus.

    Everyone but you, Chris, understands why he joined a frat. You taught him Family. Eternal planned outings. Friends for Entertainment. Gin & tonic for tonic. Familiatude along with Daditude. And now, having brung him upright, you get to play.

    The Chris-WhiteFang-Smartacus love triangle is well-established. Can’t wait for the twists & turns to come, now that there are four of you. No worries. It’s just another Family Constellation. Somewhere between Aries and Virgo.

    You got this.

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