After The Silver Camaro, here is another chapter in the overly-personal wishing they could be fictional shorts...
Throughout high school I babysat primarily for one family, recent transplants from Colorado. In Arkansas, they were way cooler than anyone else around and made a financial killing in the freezer space storage industry, basically, by creating it. With a name that screamed old money (more than this one I have made up), they had a horse at their house on a mountain that was both urban and rural, my ideal ever since. After seven years of camp, moving from the babyest riding pace to placing third in the all-camp horse show my final year with a second half of a summer riding my neighbor's horse bareback unbeknownst to anyone slipped in there, it was the Murphy's horse that I first fell off, never to ride again.
I have always thought that my father's approach to allowance was the cleverest I've ever seen, perhaps because it was ample, but beginning in my junior year my father began to give me money at the beginning of each month that was to last me throughout the month. The money was for my school lunches, gas for the sky blue Buick Skylark that had been my great uncle's that my parents gave me when I turned 16, clothes (I was already a thrift store shopper in 1987) and anything else I might want in between.
So, with the babysitting, the allowance scrimping, and the jobs I got the summers before my junior and senior years, I managed to save $1000, which was to be my spending money my first year of college. Perhaps that monthly allowance was what was used to pace what I might need that first year, but it didn't really pan out as well as all that when it came down to it. I blew through my money and that combined with the fact that I made appalling grades in 8AM Latin (D), Calculus II (D), Biology (D), and Psychology (C) motivated my father to personally drive down to get me and my things from my dorm to declare that my out-of-Arkansas dreams of college were over.
The first independent decision I had made after my father had dropped me off four months prior was to not attend the sorority rush party I had come up a week early to attend. My roommate in Dobie dorm was an older student who looked like Barbie. I may or may not have lied about being a smoker on my roommate profile, but I maintained once I got there that I had claimed (in front of my parents) that I was a smoker. That first roommate was so excited to be at UT. She studied hard, socialized well and got the cutest (seemingly older too) guy in the dorm. We weren't terribly compatible.
We were both moved from our super tiny bunk bed rooms to being the 4th in suites. My roommate wanted nothing to do with me. I watched soaps instead of going to class, never cracked a book, and though I knew some of the ways I was lacking socially, there was no way I could know what these girls from Dallas who felt their wealth knew. My incessant study of Seventeen Magazine and The Preppy Handbook just hadn't prepared me adequately, apparently, because my roommate, with whom I don't recall ever having a real conversation, hated me with a passion.
One weekend found my roommate and two suite mates out of town, so, of course, I had a party. After Flaming Dr. Peppers and shameful partial-blackout sex with a virgin, I awoke on the floor near the bathroom in a pool of blood. My chin was numb, but when I looked in the bathroom mirror, I could see the bone beneath where I had cut it open. My hungover detective work told me I'd gotten up to go to the bathroom, fallen and hit my chin on the open bathroom cabinet door and lain there for some time. After walking over to the student health center on the other side of campus, alone, I was the proud wearer of a huge bandage over my chin for the next few weeks. During those weeks my roommate complained that I wasn't Kosher and managed to get me moved back to a bunk bed room with Jennifer.
I hadn't made many friends there in that dorm, mainly just Albert, with whom I played racquetball and Super Mario Brothers often. John, who was the only other person from my high school, would tolerate my hanging out with his crowd occasionally despite the fact that his former-virgin friend wanted nothing to do with me after our undoubtedly stellar sexual exploits.
But, I was a social butterfly compared to Jennifer. She had taken to eating only fast food though we were privy to a meal plan with a salad bar I to this day envy myself for having had. She had no friends and was downright phobic after having been raped the summer before. It's hard for me to imagine what her isolating Freshman experience had been, but we clicked instantly; it was her who turned me onto The Cure and incorporating black into my wardrobe.
I began to hang out with a beautiful Indian fellow some floors up in the dorm and when, the week before finals, I showed up at my room accompanied by two fellows who stood there asking for my textbooks, how could she know I didn't know them and that I was in some sort of alcohol-less black out when I was handing them my textbooks one after another, seemingly willingly? My friend and I had gone, in the pursuit of pot, to their room where the last thing I remember was watching REM's Stand video. When I awoke on my top bunk the next morning, I saw an ATM (they were brand new) receipt in my hand with a note saying my card was being held inside the bank after too many failed withdrawal attempts.
Jennifer boldly stepped into the Dobie cafeteria to help me ID the textbook bandits, but the onus of responsibility was mine, I assumed. "I was getting pot from these guys, officer...." My shame was at lifetime highs those days, and honestly, I really couldn't blame having no textbooks for my poor showing at finals. I didn't think I would see Jennifer again after my dad came down and had me pack my meager belongings to move out of the dorm room.
Over the winter break I was invited to go skiing with the Murphys in New Mexico, on the condition I would watch their children in the evenings while they went out. I was a pretty good skier after a couple church trips in high school and very much enjoyed an unfettered ability to ski to my hearts' content. They had all the ski equipment I needed there in the family-owned cabin. It really was a dream come true... until I spent the night I had off to myself drinking with a bunch of folks I didn't know at a lodge and brought a hot guy with an accent back to the cabin where the kids discovered us in the morning, together, naked, on the couch. Though my mom and Mrs. Murphy are still friends and they never mentioned this to my parents, I haven't seen the Murphy's since. Last I heard, the daughter works for Seventeen magazine.
Only because my dad couldn't get my dorm fees back was I allowed to begrudgingly return to Austin in January. Because I'd spent all the spending money I'd saved, I had to get a job. After helping my mother address envelopes for the Sebastian County Republican Committee and sell drink tickets to a fundraiser featuring Bob and Elizabeth Dole a few years before, an ad to work for The Republican Party of Texas seemed to make sense. I was a terribly good phone solicitor it turned out, surprisingly not hinting at a future career in the phone sex industry. My grades, however, were only barely improved.
That semester I made my first A in a Poetry class, attended an Astronomy class the whole semester only to later find out I was never registered for the darn thing, and met my birth father.
One of the days I was skipping class, Jennifer, who always skipped herself, was listening to the radio, something I really never did. I heard a man announce he was "JM on B93." This was surreal, I told her, because my birth father's name was JM and he was a disc jockey. My head was reeling a bit, and before I'd even noticed, she had dialed the radio station, told this man she had someone who wanted to talk to him, and handed me the phone.
"Is this JM?" I asked. "Yes, it is," the swaggering voice commanded. "I was born JMM." "Well, this is Freida Bee and I was born Freida Discretion Bee." "Is this some kind of joke?" "No." The only affection I ever really got from my father was in that moment, the way he said, "Oh, Freida."
Being sufficiently surprised at my lack of a southern accent (I tried), we met in person, after not having seen each other for ten years, later that afternoon. Within a week, I had done whip-its with him, he was dating my friend Maria, and I was on the radio, kinda. One of the times when we hung out, he said he had to stop by the station really quickly to get something done before we proceded to do whatever it is we were going to do, invariably involving alcohol. He had to record a little ad promo thing for some poolside coverage the station was going to be doing. He recorded the line, "C'mon Austin, turn. Don't burn." I supplied the moan at the end.
Based on the moan (he said) the station would offer me an internship if I switched my major to RTF (radio/ television/ film). Despite the unlikelihood I had such choices to make considering my then academic status, I thought the idea absurd. This morning, however, twenty-five years later, I awoke with yet another "great" idea, wishing I could take screenwriting classes, knowing RTF is exactly what I would love to pursue.
(... to be continued.)