Saturday, September 12, 2009

Alma matters

posted Fri, 30 Jul 2004

Here it is -- I wrote this for last night and just FINALLY got it. I still don't have the new version of Notes on this computer. I hope I don't have to call the Help desk. It should be called the "helpless" desk. Or "hopeless," as in 'abandon all hope...'

Tonight is the 4th Annual BBQ Sendoff for the new Rice students from M’town. I organized the alumni group when I moved here (which entailed calling the alumni office, telling them I wanted to arrange a party, and having them send the invitations and pay for everything). The usual motive: to meet men. That part didn’t work, but I have made some wonderful women friends, including the bodacious redheaded pediatrician Ilene (class of ’92) and Semahat, the Turkish professor of electrical engineering who teaches at both the state university and the med school here. The U of M’town has remarkably good faculty, despite the fact that the student body is not always top drawer.

I met Ilene at the first BBQ, I think. Or maybe the second. Anyhow, I complimented her on the hummus/olive/toast appetizers she had brought and asked for the recipe. She told me that it was an old family recipe from her father’s side in Israel and she really couldn’t share it with me. I was a little taken aback, but didn’t challenge her. Later that evening, she confessed: “I can tell we’re going to be friends and I don’t want to start our friendship with a lie,” she said. “That hummus came from Wild Oats. I didn’t make it. All I did was smear it on the toast.”

That was the start of a beautiful friendship. She was the one who held my hand while I was having my belly button pierced. Leigh had gone along as well to provide moral support, but she started to feel queasy while the piercer was preparing and had to sit. Ilene, however, interrogated the guy, which was one of the main reasons I had wanted her there, other than to share the experience. I wanted a doctor making sure everything was being done properly. She was quite enthusiastic, asking the piercer about all other kinds of piercings that I didn’t even know people did and would have thought of them as ways to get the enemy to talk, not something you would do on purpose for fun.

I made it through the piercing and the threading of the ring without fainting. It wasn’t until we were in the car and two blocks away from the piercing studio that I passed out. Apparently, I was quite polite about it, giving Leigh and Ilene ample notice. Leigh stopped the car and Ilene jumped out and did all the doctor stuff. Afterwards, she told me she had never attended a fainting before.

But that wasn’t the weird part. I always pass out. Leigh started the car again. We went four blocks and she said, “I can’t hear and I have television.” As the official keeper of the English language, I had to correct her: “Tunnel vision, you mean.”

Because she couldn’t hear, she didn’t answer – she just said, “I can’t see. But I think I can drive.”

“No!” Ilene and I shouted. “Stop the car!” She was passing out in sympathy! Ilene jumped out of the back seat, pulled Leigh out of the driver’s seat and put her in the back, and then drove to my house. That’s why you always take a doctor to these things. And that’s why when Ilene learned Leigh was pregnant, she told her not to take me along for the amnio.

But I digress. The Rice alumni BBQ is tonight. We have it a Jim and Gayle’s house, four blocks from me. There are five Rice alumni within a mile of my house, which is quite a coincidence when you consider that the school isn’t even 100 years old and each graduating class has about 500 students. Lots of the older M’town alumni are architects. For a long time, Rice was the only school in the south with a decent architecture school.

Rice alumni are an interesting bunch (usually in a good way but sometimes in a weird way). The parents can be even more interesting. One year, a family with a Rice freshman about to start that year arrived an hour early to the party. If I had arrived in town an hour before a party hosted by people I didn’t know, I would have found a coffee shop or a bookstore and hung out for a while. But not these folks! Not only did they come to the house early, but they didn’t offer to help with the preparations. And they demanded attention.

Actually, it was the dad who was so demanding. He’s a math professor somewhere and was just oblivious to normal social cues. The rest of the family – the wife, the son who was going to start at Rice and his younger sisters – were all quite nice, but it was clear that dad dominated things. Every time I would ask the son something – what college will you be in, what is your major – his dad would answer for him. I finally moved my body in between him and the son and turned my back to dad. Didn’t work. I did notice the next year, though, that the son had become a lot more assertive after a year away from home.

One of the older alumni called me yesterday. She was class of ’51 – would there be anyone from her class there? I told her I didn’t have the mailing list – that the alumni office sent the invitations – so I didn’t know what class years would be represented. She told me she had tried to get her granddaughters to go to Rice, but hadn’t succeeded. “I know I sound like a snob,” she said, “but University of Arkansas?! She’s getting a chancellor’s scholarship, but still.” She sighed deeply.

I have to leave work early to pick up the BBQ, beans and coleslaw from Central BBQ. Once I deliver the food to Jim and Gayle’s house, my work is done, except for helping to clean up. Not much work and I get a lot of credit for it.

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