Tag Archives: University of Illinois

We get offered candy: 28 August 1995 journal

28 August 1995, early Monday morning, 3 a.m.  [in my Urbana apartment?]

There are two options for me in my academic calendar—I can either take English 248 and not read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Lawrence, or I can not take the class and not read those books, but it’s not as if actually reading them is an option.

Real interesting conversation with Ryan E. and Jordan tonight about Daily Illini [newspaper staff] personalities. We dropped (late) about 1 a.m., but the three of us talked til about 2:15 or so while Ryan printed out the separations of the cover of Touch Down Times. We talked about mostly personalities and people—and the way—(I’m losing interest, picking up the Urbana Park District leisure guide).

The thing is: Ryan and I were sitting, chatting, on Green Street Pizza Hut front stoop, across from his Skylight apartment when this tall (6’6″ or over), lanky man came across the street aiming towards us, a lavender/dark shirt, long-sleeved, and I noticed him stop three lanes from us as a black limo sped through. I looked at him, he wasn’t approaching real fast, but to diffuse the situation, to understand what was going on, I said, “Hey.” He responded, “Hey, you guys want some candy?”

I jumped in, “No, thanks, man,” and Ryan had chimed in before I finished with a similar response. But it was like he wasn’t sure what to do, or was it all fast and so not a real pause from him? I don’t know.

I’m not sure he was looking to sell us anything so much as rob us. Here we sit at 2:45 a.m., but it was on Green Street—surprising how that familiar, near environment can become so threatening. I felt open, raw and exposed the entire 15-20 minutes we sat there, not comfortable at all like sitting outside in Urbana. I don’t fear for my life in Urbana. But he turned and watched these three young college girls, followed by a couple guys, walk down Green then go north.

I turned to Ryan and did the brow-wipe and the “whooo” sigh, silent a moment, then I said, “this has been a cool chat, but I think I’m going to leave before we get offered candy again.” So I left and walked the south side of Green Street back to the dark safety of Urbana. The guy ambled along, really seeming to look for mischief—really looking, searching, looking into windows, following the girls with his gaze, seeming every minute to pause for the crime calculation of risk over return.

He was slow, looking into buildings, and I was a “spirited” walker, to say the least, so I soon lost sight of him behind, last seeing him peer through the front glass of Deluxe pub. But the night walk home was interesting—not the general paranoiac fear of darkness unknown, of the possibility of bushes pregnant with full grown men—but the specific one thought-fear of the Lavender man. Is he behind me? Did he run and sneak around front of me ? No, probably not. I left him behind. He didn’t seem the running type.

It’s funny, though, how people ask about drugs—this guy calls it “candy,” the Fallout [club in St. Louis] Longhair asked for “snort.” It almost made me later want to find out what he meant by “candy,” but I have a feeling I was correct to do what I did, not even get involved with a ne’er-do-well such as himself. I thought about starting a conversation and backing out—did he mean coke/crack? But it was probably better not to even get involved—and he wasn’t selling anything, not near so much as he seemed to be of the other persuasion, the Aggressive Consumer (when you take the goods without sharing your $). …

The other thing I was thinking about was the bricks on which we sat. I’ve walked by those bricks hundreds of times, so they were a part of Matt’s Campus Realm map, but now I have played out a scene of my life there. I am making use of the whole of my stage. All gets acted in at some point, all that I occupy is a setting for some incident/conversation/thought/recollection, etc. But there is a lot of the campus in which I don’t go and which is superfluous to my existence. This is my image: the places I go are created to a certain depth—a 10-yard tube along the roads I walk, the tube being the scenery I see and occupy. I don’t need what’s behind Pizza Hut until I go by there.

But standing at the sea coast, say, the Gulf of Mexico, you only see the coast near you, and it doesn’t bend much, or maybe it bends a lot at any local area, but the map makers give us these shapes of land viewed from some weird above-and-away-from perspective—the philosophy of calculus. But how do you know, how do they know how far out to draw the boundary, at what angle, to accommodate a bulge in the coastline? Where are they that they can see the coast as they draw it? Nothing at the point can tell you the overall shape of the coast.

But I guess I wasn’t all that into “learning from conversations” tonight because I didn’t question Ryan, find out what he thinks; he told me or I told him what I think. …

Before the Candyman’s arrival, I mentioned how I had worn one pair of shorts all last week, expecting, I guess, for Ryan to laugh. But he called me on it and said dirty laundry is something you don’t talk about—and he’s right. I don’t like to hear about how others are dirty, how they don’t shower. Why did I say it? …

Ramen’s boiling!

I like this kind of writing like tonight—just jotting down all the odd stuff that happens to me, which is inherently odd (to me) in that it happens to me (and seems odd). I’m not sure if that is clear—pretty sure it isn’t. But just this type of writing, not fiction, no pressure to find a plot to fit tonight’s anecdotes into. It’s not all that useful as prose on its own—but it’s fun. It’s fun to write. I like to write, not only to record it and not forget it, to possibly use it in fiction later, but also just to write it—it’s fun to put my words on paper, to shape a story, relate a narrative, and it makes me proud if it has a good overall image, or even just a good sentence/turn of a phrase.

No pressure here to be good. I don’t plan to edit/rewrite—no pressure to finish, even. But I do. It feels good, but also feels like an accomplishment—it’s satisfying to flip through all the pages I’ve filled with blue ink, adding a thousand facets and rippling to the paper, make it crinkle when turned in the writing process. …

[From Journal 11, pages 85–92]

I may not be loyal to you, Illinois

Lake Mendota, Madison, 6 Aug. 2013

Lake Mendota, Madison, 6 Aug. 2013

Enjoying the sunset and the locally made ice cream at the UW-Madison Union Terrace last night, my wife and I (as UIUC grads)  found it hard to sell our alma mater to a student who was considering attending a Big Ten (or “Big Variable” Conference, where “Ten” has an evolving, non-ten value) school. His priority seemed to be a school that has a reputation for winning athletic programs, and that’s not what Illinois is known for. (It’s better known as the birthplace both of HAL and of the Web browser, not to mention being the alma mater of Roger Ebert, Hugh Hefner, and Ron Swanson).

But I’m glad I went there for the latter five-eights of my undergrad semesters. I was taught by some good professors and some great T.A.s, learned a lot about writing and editing at The Daily Illini, and met terrific friends (including my wife — I got my “M.R.” degree, as well as my B.A., at Champaign-Urbana).

But, alas, those twin cities lack some of Madison’s features: Both are on water, but the Boneyard Creek (a stream so ugly it got paved over in Campustown) is no Lake Mendota. Madison’s rolling hills offer vistas; Champaign County is damned flat. Madison has a skyline and urban planning that connected the university to the state capitol via State Street; Champaign city exists only because the Illinois Central railroad passed two miles west of Urbana.

Maybe I’m just a little bitter that my wife keeps getting alumni mail from the university we both went to, but I get no such acknowledgement of my graduation. It’s no big deal, of course, but it’s just the kind of little indignancies I like to nurse and be petty about.

Also, I realized yesterday that I don’t own any Illinois-marked garments because, really, navy blue and orange aren’t my favorite colors.

I still recommend the University of Illinois to those of my students who can afford to go to a four-year college and who want a public school, but I’m not sure, with all the cutbacks in state aid over the last several years, that it’s still as good a school as the one I went to. On the other hand, I’m not sure anymore what it means to say a school is “good.”

The longer I’m a teacher myself (though at a high school), the more I see individual students having particular educational experiences that are not necessarily attributable to the school itself. Students having different teachers for the same course will have diverse experiences, and of course, students bring their own interests, abilities, cultures, values, and backgrounds to their own educations.

So I guess I’m not sure if it matters where one goes to college — or, let’s say, it probably matters in such profound and unknowable ways that it almost doesn’t matter where one goes, any more than it matters which shoes I wear today or which book I pick up at the bookstore. Whatever one does, one learns from it. I learned from attending two other colleges before transferring to UIUC that it’s OK to try things out and if they don’t feel right, to find something else.

And that’s one of those profound life lessons that nobody really teaches in a classroom in any college.

*Titular note explained here.