JONAH AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY SOBER WEEKEND

JONAH LIPTON '17, Staff Writer

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Friday March 14:

 I am visiting my friend Jacob at his aunt Agnes’s house in Long Beach, California, when Agnes asks me to speak to her daughter Tallulah, a high school junior, about Wesleyan University. Tallulah asks if Wesleyan had a lively sports community, and I tell her that I’ve been to one football game, where the crowd was big and we won by a lot. She asks if Wesleyan has a marching band, and I tell her that I’m not sure. She asks if I like the school, and I tell her that I do. Her mother takes down my email and phone number, and she asks if I would be available to give them a tour of the school when they drop by some time in April.

     “Sure thing,” I tell them. “When do you think you’re gonna swing by?”

    Her mother tells me they’ll drive down from Dartmouth on Sunday, April 20th to see the school. I paused a moment before responding.

    “That’ll be a busy weekend,” I say.

    “Can you do it?” her mother asks.

    I tell her I’d be happy to.

    Sunday, April 20th:

    11:30 am: My alarm wakes me up an hour before Tallulah is scheduled to arrive on campus. I call her and she tells me she’s running a few hours late. She’ll be there around 2. Cold sweat drips down my face as I try to calculate how long it will take to give an adequate tour of the campus. As long as it’s less than two hours and twenty minutes, everything will be fine.

    11:45 am: I text four different friends asking if they want to go to brunch.

    12:05 pm: I drop by three rooms to ask friends if they want to go to brunch.

    12:09 pm: I go to brunch alone.

12:16 pm: I arrive at brunch and set my plate down in a corner in Usdan’s so-called “Quiet Side” that offers me a view of the entire dining room. I eat scrambled eggs, home fries, two pieces of French toast, a toasted bagel with cream cheese, a croissant, a chocolate croissant, a bowl of Apple Jacks, and a bowl of fruit. Alone.

12:57 pm: On the way back to Bennet Hall, I stop at the bottom of Foss to allow some time for digestion. I sit in the middle of the field, so that I’m lined up perfectly with the flagpole between South College and the Chapel. The world is symmetrical and I feel a sense of balance. I take three deep breaths, the first I have breathed all weekend, and I decide to stay here for a few more minutes.

1:32 pm: By now, five different clusters of my friends have passed by me. They ask me if I’m ready.

“Do I look ready?” I say. My legs are straight out in front of me, and my ankles are crossed. I beam up at the sun and feel complete.

1:45 pm: I receive a call from Tallulah. They’ll be here at 2:30, she says. I tell them it’s fine as I crunch the numbers and consider the speediest routes around the campus.

2:14 pm: The sun is starting to burn the back of my neck. A slight breeze runs its figurative fingers through my hair, and I stay where I am. There were seven people on Foss when I arrived an hour ago. Now there are at least forty.

2:25 pm: I walk over to the Admissions Office, where Tallulah and her mother are waiting for me. After sitting in the sun for well over an hour, I am in a blissful mood. I initiate long hugs with both of them, even though I have them only three times before today.

2:27 pm: We head to Bennet to get a taste of a “real” dorm room. On our way we pass a purple and yellow poster, and Agnes asks me what it means to “Get Zonk’d.” I ask her if she knows the comic “Doonesbury.”

 2:45 pm: On the way to Freeman Athletic Center, Agnes remarks that the vibe here is much more relaxed than at Dartmouth. Go Cardinals.

3:07 pm: It has somehow taken me twenty minutes to give an in-depth tour of the school’s gym, despite the fact that I’ve only ever seriously attempted to use the facility once before (I had to leave early because my iPod ran out of battery, and I couldn’t jog on the treadmill without music to distract me from the crippling pain of running 5.5 miles per hour). During the tour, I’ve entered rooms that could fit my entire house, rooms I never knew existed until I happened upon them today. I’ve tried to offer explanations for their existence, and both Tallulah and her mom seem to be impressed by my knowledge of my school’s athletic infrastructure.

3:20 pm: We stop in Olin Memorial Library and I show then the main study floor. We can see Foss through the large windows.

“Look at all the people on the hill!” Agnes says. “It’s such a nice day.”

I squint, and I think I can make out a grey haze rising up into the blue sky.

3:30 pm: We pass through Usdan. It’s empty. As we make our way through the Center for the Arts, we don’t encounter a single person north of Wyllys Avenue.

Overall, the pair seems very impressed by the school. Tallulah is quiet, although she’s made one joke about falling and having us go on without her, which I appreciated. I ask if she has any questions, and when she says she doesn’t, I apologize. I remember being in her position, driving through the northeast with my father last spring, every institution of higher learning blending together into an impressionistic swirl of brick, stone, and the sickly green communal bathroom tile.

3:34 pm: Agnes tells me that I should be an official tour guide, and I blush uncontrollably.  

3:55 pm: We say goodbye in the parking lot on Wyllys. I hug them again, and this time they both hug me back.

 “Let’s just get a photo in front of the hill with all the people,” Agnes says.

I put my arm around Tallulah’s shoulder and we smile, our backs to the crowd, which has grown exponentially since I was lying at the base of Foss only two hours before. We take the picture and then they leave.

4:02 pm: I return to Foss and find my friends sitting and eating red velvet cupcakes. One of them offers me a bite, which I decline.  

4:07 pm: I’m lying on Foss next to another friend and we’re talking about brunch. I tell her I don’t eat bacon. She asks me why not, and I explain that I’ve never eaten it. This isn’t a great answer, I know. I tell her I don’t like the smell. She says she doesn’t like it either. Given the context, this is a strangely allegorical conversation.

4:09 pm: I put on sunscreen for the first time today.

4:20 pm: Everybody cheers.

A brass band plays as it marches up and down the hill. As they perform, students with trash bags full of snack foods hike up Foss, throwing air-sealed Chicharrones at clusters of cross-legged students with outstretched arms. One bag knocks the beer out of a boy’s hand, and it spills into the hair of the girl sitting next to him. They both laugh.

4:25 pm: A student in a blue printed shirt and shorts eludes the iron grip of P-Safe. Hundreds of people cheer as he runs down the steps by WestCo. As he vanishes somewhere near Olin, I join in the applause, and begin to feel a sense of shame. As a tour  guide, I was supposed to give Tallulah and her mother a clear and honest view of Wesleyan.

There are more people engaged in a unified activity on Foss today than I’ve seen together since all the freshmen sang Wesleyan’s fight song on the grassy steps behind the library during orientation. I don’t remember the lyrics to the fight song, but I will remember that the first song the brass band played on 4/20 was “When the Saints Go Marching In.” While I did my best to show them the school, I don’t know if anything that we saw could have told them more than this moment.

7:35 pm: I look in the mirror. Reflected back at me is the most badly sunburned boy I have ever seen.