Saturday, December 03, 2011

Alma Mater

One thing that I'm appreciating about being back in Austin and doing temp work on the campus of my alma mater, UT, is the chance to rediscover the place. I got my BA in English there in 1993, which took me longer than 4 years! I kept dropping out to work full-time because I was sick of being broke, then going back, then dropping out again. Finally, after all of my friends had graduated, it dawned on me that if I didn't just buckle down and get the damn degree, I was going to wind up working at K-Mart or someplace! (Funny, I'm making K-Mart wages nowadays anyway! Oh well.)

After getting the BA, I immediately went off to grad school in San Fran. After graduating there in '95, I came back home, and couldn't find any other job at the time than supervising at the UT library where I used to work... Ugh. I was sick of the low-paying library, of the campus. When a publishing company hired me full-time in 2000, I never wanted to see the campus again. And I basically didn't. From 2000 to 2010, I didn't step foot there.

Why? When I first went to UT in the mid-'80s, it was a haven for frat boys and sorority girls. All rah-rah loud and running in packs and conformist and hateful-seeming... I didn't intellectually like what they stood for, but they also just scared me. I'll never forget the time I stood on the Drag watching a parade of UT floats... I wasn't out of the closet yet, but when I saw the float for the gay students go by, I got goosebumps and felt proud of them and happy... Until a frat boy next to me yelled out, "Fucking faggots!" Similarly, during this time, there was an AIDS quilt displayed in the entry of my library, with a guestbook where anyone could leave a message. I saw too many "Die, fag" messages there to count.

It wasn't just the anti-gay stuff, it was the whole atmosphere: I was depressed by the huge, impersonal classes that had to be taken. I was depressed by teaching assistants offering me "A"s in a class in exchange for "coffee." (Happened twice.) Depressed by the "friends" I had then who only wanted to go out to 6th Street frat bars and/or generic country dance places, when I was dying to explore the punk and live music scene. Depressed because all the library people that I worked with seemed like big losers who had given up on life in favor of being shabby and pseudo-hip. Depressed because I didn't like the boys who liked me. Or the older men that I had to keep "double-dating" if I wanted to go out because my closest "friend" was always sleeping with some guy in his 50s and he always had a buddy... (I never slept with any of the "buddies." I usually ended up in a living room of a cheap borrowed apartment, making polite conversation with the friend, while the other two fucked loudly in the bedroom. My most unpleasant memory was of being drunk and throwing up in a restaurant bathroom one evening; when I came out, still reeking of vomit, I'm sure, the "buddy" was so desperate to make out with a college girl that the fact that I'd just thrown up didn't deter him at all... he insisted on kissing. Yum!)

It was just all a big downer. I couldn't wait to get the hell away from that. And for 10 years, I did.

When I moved back to Austin from NY in 2010 and was faced with the prospect of working around the campus again, I was psychologically horrified.

But... After my one-month gig there this past summer, the angst dissipated. There weren't right-wing frat daddies marching around, just a lot of kids with messy hair in T-shirts wandering around talking on their cell phones. They all looked incredibly young and un-put-together and non-scary. And the campus was nice. I liked my lunch hours people-watching under the mighty oaks. (The massive trees, I had not appreciated before at all! It wasn't until moving to NY and seeing different pretty trees and loving those that I opened my eyes to how interesting the prevalent historically big oaks in Austin were!)

This past week, I had another temp gig on campus, this time for just one day, being a test proctor for 3 accounting classes. I passed out the tests, walked up and down the aisles during the testing to scare kids off of cheating, then checked their IDs at the end when they turned in their tests. I used to feel paranoid and claustrophobic when I myself attended big classes like these. And I remember even being afraid of the proctors back then, assuming that they were all Ph.D candidates or something, there to sniff out anyone even THINKING of falsity (either intellectually or on the basic peering-at-the-neighbor's-test level)! :) It was funny! All of these messy-looking babies with their backpacks, some forgetting-their-pencils-and-calculators; the whiz kids turning their tests in first, then the masses flooding up, then the stragglers at the end... The complete lack of attitude, just the concentration on the test, the occasional unnecessary -- but cute -- charm thrown at the proctors! :)

Are kids different today, or was I just completely paranoid back then?! Most likely the latter! :) Working this test, like working the UT football games for the past couple of months, has been psychologically healing.

No comments: