A few weeks ago, I did something I hadn’t done in 25 years. I made my way to a college town to visit someone whose couch I could crash on for the weekend. At the off-campus house, I was awakened by folks coming and going at 4 a.m., had late night conversations about Marxism and socialism, and searched the fridge for food that had no mold on it.
My daughter is a sophomore at Texas State University in San Marcos. I wanted to see how she was doing, she wanted to see me, and she offered the sofa. I considered staying in a hotel, but I figured I could spend more quality time with her over that weekend if I stayed at the house with her and her roommates. Plus, I’m sort of on the cheap side.
Going in, I was intrigued about whether the college experience had changed through the years. Like most middle-agers, my experience with the younger generation has often left me feeling like I’d been staring at aliens. Pants drooping down, foul-mouthed cussing, addictions to cell phones and iPods, and no knowledge of anything going on in the world. OK, maybe not aliens, but scary.
But I also thought of how my tribe and I spent our time back in the day: listening to Pink Floyd with colored lights spinning around, playing backgammon with bong hits to help with strategy, throwing dead cats (courtesy of the biology students) out of the dorm windows – and with no knowledge of anything going on in the world.
My view from that sofa confirmed what I had suspected all along. Our kids are basically the same as we were; they just play slightly different versions of the old college-era time-wasting games.
I didn’t see any drug use during my stay (perhaps they were hiding it from me) but plenty of beer. Guys played their X-Box games for hours. Two of my daughter’s roommates were trying to learn how to knit from a web site that instructed them on the intricacies of needles and yarn. My daughter very much enjoyed teasing a dog with a laser pointer, the pup chasing the red dot and running into walls.
And, just as when I was in college, it was clear to me that what happens outside my daughter’s classrooms is just as important as what happens inside. It’s a hands-on course in social interaction that prepares them for dealing with the real-world issues.
I witnessed the fight over food missing from the fridge (don’t look at me), the accusation from the boyfriend that his girlfriend ordered him around too much, and the finger-pointing over who was responsible for the dog going missing (it returned two days later).
And then I witnessed the thing that makes the college experience unique. We went into a coffeeshop where a young, shaved-head dude was playing the ukulele. I was told he played all over campus and sang about how he loved everybody. “I love you the way the lions love to roar, the ways the horses like to neigh,” he sang as he lay on his back on the stage.
Later we saw the “I Love You Ukulele Guy” laughing and rolling around on the grass outside the county courthouse on the town square. I introduced myself and asked where he was from. “The stars,” he answered. He then hugged me, told me how much he loved me, and put his hands over his heart as a huge smile shone from his face. Last I saw of him, he had climbed a tree outside of the courthouse and was sitting in the upper branches, singing to no one about how much he loved them.
If you did that in Fort Worth, the cops would probably aim their Tasers at you. But in college towns like San Marcos, the oddities and weirdness are embraced, and everyone learns from them.
I closed my stay by taking the kids to see Michael Moore’s recent documentary, Capitalism: A Love Story. I enjoyed the movie, but mostly it was because of the bunch I was watching it with. They booed when George W. Bush came on screen, cheered when Moore tried to make a citizen’s arrest of bankers, and laughed furiously when Jesus told the sick man he could not heal him because he had a “pre-existing condition.”
Later that night, my daughter told me she didn’t like her job at Starbucks because the management made their employees act nice to people as they served the coffee. “This capitalist system says that I have to smile at people so the corporation can make money,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to do that so other people can make money off of me.”
Oh, the conundrum of youth. But that’s why she is in college. She’ll learn about how smiling and making money sometimes intertwine. The Ukulele Guy has part of that already figured out. He was getting tips at the coffeehouse for his smiling love songs. And enjoying every minute of it in his heart.