Sunday, January 23, 2011

How I Know It's the First Week of Classes.

There's something very interesting about the entire back-to-school rigmarole.  It's been taking place for over a week now at Berkeley, and it is something so commonplace that I am quite positive it also occurs at other campuses.

What I've been observing for the past few years as a college student is no doubt associated with my generation of college students--commonly referred to as Millenials, Gen-Ys, or a personal favorite: Boomerangs.

During the first week of classes each semester, the anticipation begins to mount like a 22 year old virgin at the strip club, and it's always the same: who's in your classes, what are your professors like, and perhaps, will the graduate school instructor be attractive enough for that slim chance to flirt your way to earning maximum "participation points" without sacrificing your standards.

These common yet sometimes nerve-racking features during the first week of classes are always fun to observe, but I don't think they can compare to the unique little phenomenon I'm referring to.  It's the one that happens shortly after thousands and thousands of young college students at UC Berkeley each receive a few thousand dollars at the exact same time.

Financial aid disbursements . . . cha-ching!

Immediately following this incredibly liberating deposit into the hands and pockets of the young and restless Millenials a few days before the start of the semester creates the anticipation for you-name-it indulgences.

This all recently dawned on me during a trip to Target as I approached the checkout counter with my items.  I could clearly tell from the look on the clerk's face that the indulgences of the financially enabled students of Berkeley were upon her.

After a few items were scanned, I thought to ask how she was planning to prepare for this, but I merely said in the nicest way, "So it's about to get very busy in the next few days with everyone getting their financial aid, huh?"  No smile at all.  Instead, I watched her shoulders drop, and I could definitely sense that she was not impressed with my inquisitive nature.  All I can say in her defense is that she might have been working at Target during an August when this has happened.

What is so unique about all of this is the inevitability for the instantly gratified Gen-Ys to spend a very large portion of this money right away.  Beyond a shadow of doubt, it is happening all around me.  I see it everyday and in every way, and it is absolutely hilarious--probably because I do it too.

What's even funnier is that all this shopping and spending and buying and consuming is consolidated in such a short matter of time, the retail stores probably hire temporary help for the month of August and the month of January.  For those two months, it's better than Black Friday for the restaurants, grocery stores, bars, and shops in this college town.

Once the realization sets in, however, things quickly settle down, and it suddenly becomes much easier to make a reservation, buy a drink at the bar, or find somebody to help you locate that jar of maraschino cherries that is always in a different damn spot in every damn grocery store.

For the younger students, those still under parental control of sorts, the spree slows down when an auditing of the debit account occurs and parental reprimands ensue.  For the rest of us, it's the personal auditing of our purchases and bank statements after the first few weeks of school, where we essentially say to ourselves, "I need to make THAT last until MAY?"  Priceless.

I'm not here to offer any sage advice on the matter, but I will say this: I've take an opportunity to invest a portion of my disbursement money into some stocks last year.  It was something I was interested in doing, but from what you've read and now know, each of us clearly have the resources to do it.  It didn't take much research to figure out how to purchase stock on my own, and with a little help from an online account, it was all done very cheap and easily.  Plus, it was fun, and you know what the best part was?  I made money, and not only that, it was just sitting there waiting for me when I needed it.

Well, it's now 9:19pm in Berkeley . . . on a Saturday night . . . during the first week of classes.  I think you know what that means . . .

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Conversation Behind the Conversation.

It has been quite some time (too freaking long) since I last blogged.  I feel mildly ashamed since so much has happened in the past two months.  Therefore, I'll make this Dandygram a quick recap and pledge to start posting more frequently during my last semester here at Cal.

As most of you already know, I spent the last four months (the fall semester of my senior year at UC Berkeley) in Washington, DC.  It was incredible, life-changing, and very expensive.  It was probably incredible because it was expensive, but the bottom line is, I did what it took to make the most of it.

What also made those four months incredible were three memorable trips to NYC to visit my cousin Lindsey.  Crashing in her spacious fourth floor walk-up, tucked away on a nice street in Williamsburg, I spent three weekends living the life of a New Yorker.  Well, a lot of my time was spent on the bus rides to and from DC, navigating through the subways, and riding in numerous taxis, but nevertheless, once we arrived at one of our many destinations--a swanky Manhattan house party, a nightclub, the numerous and verrry late brunches, and a few choice karaoke sessions--I truly had the best time I had had the entire month or week. 

In (what seemed like very little of) our down time, we also leisurely shopped, ate dinner, and went to a few Broadway shows, and throughout each weekend, I lived the life of a New Yorker through my cousin's eyes, yet at the same time, I was constantly reminded of how much I was still very, VERY much a tourist.  Thank you for every memorable moment, Linds.

Back in DC, with emptier pockets and a sobering head, I really settled down in my last two months.  Plus, with most of my friends as well as myself running short on funds, the majority of the free time in my final weeks were also running short since there was still a long and arduous research paper to write.  Long story short, this semester worked out to be quite the academic boost!  However, I really did not like the last minute cramming and writing of my second 15-page research paper in 72 hours.  Never. Again.

As for my time in DC being life-changing, well . . . I guess that's to say I became an East Coaster at heart and in mind.  I definitely gained more love for the East Coast than the love I retained for the West Coast; I was actually disappointed, depressed, and distraught when I finally had to leave.  Even though I was making a near seamless transition back to the Bay area, Berkeley, and my final semester of classes, DC--and the East Coast in general--really grew on me.  On the short list?  Well, it's really cool to wake up and be in the first time zone of any in the USA.  I didn't feel so lazy--even when I slept in, I knew anyone else I wanted to call from California or Arizona were still three hours "behind."

To be more precise, however, DC became my kind of place.  From the moment I arrived, during all the time I spent there, and from all the people I talked to or observed, it was clear that an entire portion of the DC population are my age and just like me: they aren't from DC, they didn't grow up very close by, and they moved to DC for work--largely because of their interest in politics. 

You see, I haven't grown up in a place that has been permanent for me.  I mean, I guess I will always call Indiana my home, but after the last ten years, California has felt just as much of my home as Indiana does.  I am definitely through living in California, and I can't seem to think I would ever live in Indiana.  For one, I never feel right being in Indiana now because I haven't lived there since 1999.  And two, I can tell you for a fact I don't fit in well. 

I've also moved homes and states every four or five years since I was 11, and it hasn't stopped (partly due to my six years in the Air Force, but not entirely).  Neither of my parents live in the city where I graduated high school, and I have yet to see a majority of my high school friends whenever I am back in either Indiana or Arizona. 

I guess this is a little more than I needed to say in justification for why I felt a greater sense of belonging in DC than anywhere else, but I can imagine it helps paint the picture for why my time in DC was life-changing as well as incredible (and expensive).

So what remains?  Well, *sniff* an emptiness in my heart and the constant memory of my last four months in DC.  I never thought I'd gain such a desire to live anywhere, but there you have it.  I need not go on and on and on.

As for the time in between DC and Berkeley--Festivus, Christmas, and New Year's Eve--here's the low down:

My final days in DC are a bit of a blur but not from what you're probably thinking; it's a blur because of the near sleepless nights glued to my computer screen, exerting all mental effort to the writing of a research paper on how John Locke's theory of liberalism and Montesquieu's theory of republicanism were incorporated into the ideals of James Madison and written into the Constitution.  Needless to say, it was a 72 hour process that took up my remaining days, nights, and farewell celebrations in DC.  What. A. Drag. 

Immediately following a swift clean-up and checkout from the UC Center on the absolute last day we could stay there, my good friend Kevin from Cal (who is now a happily committed man living in DC) picked me up for a few beers and to send me off for Christmas in Indiana. 

All went according to plan (except for the losing streak in five competitive games of pool), and I boarded my short flight back to Indianapolis with a nice beer buzz.  At that point in the week, I could have used anything to take my mind off the fact that I still needed to finish my paper by the stroke of midnight.  I took comfort in the fact that I still had a few hours to write and edit after I touched down in Indianapolis.  Talk about waiting to the absolute last minute . . .

Nevertheless, that damn paper got finished, and I am damn proud of how it turned out.  For the next few days, I slept heavily (almost to the point of stiffness and depression), and it was an irresistible feeling to make the guest bedroom as blacked-out as possible, not look at the clock for the first 3-4 wake-ups, and eventually roll out of bed in time for lunch.  Dead serious, and I have to admit: since I am now in my last semester of college, the 30-day long winter breaks will soon be a distant memory, so I soaked this one up.

The following days in Indiana were a whirlwind of family visits, last-minute shopping, food preparation, and of course, great meals.  Probably the absolute best part of being in Indiana is making, baking, and cooking food of all sorts with my family.  And not only that, the left-over meals my dad can put together are truly great.  Thanks Dad!

After a quick overnight to see my mom's family for Christmas in upstate Indiana, my time with family began to grow short.  Just as I had driven from California to Indiana back in August, to store my car for the fall semester, the drive (different route) was growing inevitably closer.  While I had anticipated the nearly month long drive along the southern border in August, this time I had only four destinations and an additional pit-stop in half the time before reaching my new apartment in Berkeley: Topeka, KS (the pit-stop); Boulder, CO; Albuquerque, NM; Sedona, AZ; and Los Angeles, CA.

Taking a different route across the country provided a much different perspective on places I know I would never, and I mean never, want to live. When I thought New Mexico or Texas were difficult states to drive through, I had no idea that what awaited me once I crossed the border from Missouri: the most boring and ugliest state of Kansas. (I've since checked my friends' hometowns on Facebook, and I am sure I won't be offending any of them by saying that.) For an 18 hour drive from Indianapolis to Boulder, Topeka seemed to be the least desirable, but most cost-efficient and middle-of-the-drive place to stop and hang my hat.

In all its monotony of amber waves of grain along the highway, the state of Kansas has, by far, the most anti-abortion signs of any state I have ever driven through (30+).  My favorite sign?  "Smile, your mother chose life."  Thanks Mom!

Christmas 2010
Luckily, I had a few seasons of Mad Men to keep me highly entertained in my hotel room, so there wasn't any worry of possibly encountering any strange Kansas people--pro-life or pro-choice.  As soon as I could get out of bed the following morning, I was happily on my way to Boulder to see my cousin Lauren (sister of Lindsey from NYC), snowboard, and ring in the New Year in the Rockies.
My time there was great, but unfortunately for everyone in company on trips to the mountains or just out and about, it was bitter cold.  The first real snowstorm came into Boulder just hours ahead of me, and with it, freezing cold temperatures in the mountains.  We were relentless, however, and devoted ourselves to at least snowboard New Year's Eve since a few friends of Lauren and her boyfriend Kyle had rented a cabin in the Keystone village for NYE.  The morning we left, there was a fresh new 6 inches of snow at Boulder elevation, and this only meant a few more on top of that up in the mountains, but what we didn't foresee was how extremely cold it was going to be.
Negative seven degrees Fahrenheit at 10am on New Year's Eve in the parking lot of Keystone.  Hmm, that is a little cold.  I unfortunately made the mistake of putting on thick socks for the ride up and never changing out of them and into thin socks for boarding.  This is a big no-no, and you can ask any serious boarder.  See what happens is that if your boots fit snug, which they should, and then your feet will just barely fit in with thin socks.  When I laced up with thick socks on, I could immediately feel it wasn't right, but I pushed on in order to get up and on the slopes. 
By the third run, my right foot was nearly numb due to the inability of blood to circulate.  Not only that, I think I had the onset of frostbite, so we all agreed to take a break, warm up, get a few drinks, and see if I would regain feeling in my foot. 
I did, but it happened nearly two hours later and many thanks to Lauren's wrapping ability:

Once we made it back out, I think we only had a few more runs left in us because our faces, noses, ears, necks, and lips were nearly frostbitten after the first run out of the lodge.  We decided to scrap the day after maybe eight runs to get settled into the cabin and meet up with everyone.

New Year's Eve made out to be a more interesting one than year's past.  There was no club music, large groups of drunken people, cramped spaces, or the like.  Instead, it was a nice group of three couples and me, the odd man out.  After a nice homemade dinner and a few drinks, the entire day hit my body and head like a semi-truck, and at 9:30pm on New Year's Eve, I was already in bed.  In my defense, it was merely a nap, but being woken up at 11:45pm to shouts and calls for drinking some champagne and ringing in the New Year, I was down in a flash, only to watch TV for about 20 minutes, and then I was right back where I had left, tucked in for the night.  I think I felt the entire year's worth of partying--in Berkeley, Southeast Asia, Washington DC, and NYC in my body at that moment, and so as a way to prepare for this year, I slept the majority of that night.

A few days later, I was again on my way to Berkeley and still had a majority of my winter break and traveling ahead of me.  I stopped over night in Albuquerque to spend a night with my friend Dave. 

The following day, I drove to the Grand Canyon for lunch and a beer while I waited out a few hours for my sister and mom to arrive in Sedona for the week.  In all the time I lived in Phoenix and have traveled there since my mom and stepdad moved there (now 12 years), this Grand Canyon visit was only my third.  I'll let the best picture I could capture with my phone tell you why I felt a bit ashamed of not visiting more.

My time in Sedona was extremely relaxing and very enjoyable.  It was also the first time in quite a long time my sister Erin and I had been able to be with our mom together for longer than a day or two.  It's quite a rarity with our combined schedules that we were able to do this, and despite this fact, I still spent plenty of my time in my stepdad Jim's mancave in the basement of their Sedona home--far away from my mom, sister, their charm swap projects, and their crazy invented songs about future charm swap projects ("E-dangledangle, R-dangledangle, I-dangledangle . . ."). 

Even the neighbors knew we were coming to Sedona, so they made a snowman to greet us.

With my time growing short and the prospect of getting back to Berkeley by the following Monday, I still had time for a quick overnight in LA to see my cousin Rachie and good friend Justin.  It is definitely a treat to have friends and family in LA because over the years, LA has really grown on me as well--especially West Hollywood and the night scene.  I'm sure you can imagine why. 

It is now Thursday, January 20.  I have been back to school for a week, and after attending nearly all of my classes, reading through my syllabi, and seeing what's in store for the course readings, I definitely have my work cut out once again.  I also can tell that this semester will be, by far, my favorite semester--both academically and socially.  While most of my old friends are now gone doing other things, there are a few more to look for in classes and on campus from my four great months in DC.

UCDC Fall 2010 Berkeley Students (many are not pictured)

All the best in the New Year and look for more (and much shorter) Dandygrams in the very near future.