40 Years Ago: First Day of College

With colleges now starting before Labor Day, I’m fascinated to note that I didn’t begin my college career until September 12, 1971. As noted, I was attending the State University College at New Paltz only before my high school girlfriend was attending there. And well before I got there, but too late to apply anywhere else, she had dumped me for another guy.

So what to make of the place? I’d been there before, and had had some affection for it. There were three red brick dorms at one part of campus. Scudder Hall was where I was assigned, room B-2. My parents and sisters helped me drop off my stuff, which included bedding, a few books (a Bible, Roget’s Thesaurus, Robert’s Rules of Order, a complete Shakespeare among them), my record player, and about 30 LPs (all the Apple label Beatles, The Band’s eponymous second album, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, Daydream by the Lovin’ Spoonful, the Supremes Sing Holland-Dozier-Holland, The Temptations with a Little Bit O’ Soul, a Mamas and Papas greatest hits album, and Aftermath by the Rolling Stones, and a few others).

But my roommate wasn’t there yet. It turned out, when I met him the next day, that Ron was a graduate student. So why on earth would they match him with a freshman? Maybe it was because we were the only two black males in the dorm.

At some point, we were directed across the grass to another red brick dorm, Bliss Hall. I knew Bliss all too well; that’s where I had gotten dumped four months earlier. The food the college was serving was in the basement.

In line, I met this weird guy who also was assigned to Scudder, Room 110. It turned out that Uthaclena collected comic books. How does a grown person collect comic books? I had given them up years earlier. Of course, he got me into collecting, seriously, for about two decades. He also had a weird habit of squatting off his desk as though he were Peanuts’ Snoopy as a vulture; it was very peculiar.

That night, I went to my room and cried myself to sleep.

The next night, there was a mixer, and Uthaclena introduced me to a friend and classmate of his, originally from Durant, Oklahoma. I started throwing peanuts in her beer; oddly, this was an effective pickup technique. And by the end of the month, the Okie and I were seriously dating.

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