Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Laziness Into Nostalgia Into Reflection

Y'know, it's funny sometimes how some happenstance can lead one to think about something that has not come up for years.

Take me this afternoon...I got back to my apartment, sweating like Kim Jong Il's barber with the shakes, and I wanted to change shirts. Upon opening my armoire and rummaging through the contents, it became painfully clear that I have not done laundry in some time.

I found pillowcases of unknown origin, no less than two pairs of sweatpants with paint on them, polo shirts that I thought were lost to the sands of time and bathing suits that probably should have been.

Finally, I found a rolled-up thing that looked big enough to be a t-shirt that would still fit. When I unrolled it, I was a bit surprised to say the least.

It was a Saint Joseph's College Little 500 shirt from 1997...I honestly had no idea I still had it.

No, the only surprise was not the fact that a ten year old garment still fit.

It was mainly the happy surprise that finding an artifact of my past that I assumed was gone forever, quite possibly in the great purge before I moved to Madison in 2005.

Oh, the memories that came washing over me as I pulled the comfortably stretched neck hole over my head...for those of you out there who are Pumas, please forgive me explaining and reminiscing and explaining a bit about the wonder that is Little 500.

Basically it was a go-kart race/all-campus party-hearty weekend that for most people marked the social high point of the year (for me it did, at least). I was usually involved in the race, usually as pit crew member for #17, Joe Vorrier "The Puma Warrior." My junior and senior years, I also took a turn singing the Indiana state song "On The Banks Of The Wabash, Far Away," and I am not even from Indiana.

What fun those weekends were...going out to "the Barns," tinkering with a contraption that was basically a lawnmower engine with a bicycle chain on a chassis with some fiberglass bodywork...realizing that "the Barns" were structures that, in a normal town with building codes, would have been condemned for inhabitation by most self-respecting rodents...seeing the Start/Finish line being repainted as the "roads" through campus were transformed (with the help of hay bales and snow fence) into our very own pint-sized road course (LeMans eat your heart out)...speculating over and over while walking the track about conditions on race day while trying to see where the "groove" was, left by carts during practice and qualifying.

Then came the big day...the bunting was up, the course was set, the bridges over the course were in place, the safety staff set along the route, the cars at the starting line. Then came the ceremonials...pre-race prayers, anthems, speeches. Then comes driver introductions, final instructions, "Gentlemen and ladies start your engines," the pace laps and then we're off.

The race was always a combination of careful planning and on the spot disaster control (sometimes quite literally), a lot like life in general really. Then, after three white-knuckled hours, the winners were crowned, the runners-up recognized and another race was in the books.

For me, a participant in the race, it was then when I could start boozing it up for real...they always said that we had to stay clean and I always did, but come the end of the race, oh brother...

It then went on to a typical SJC social evening, only moreso. Some moving around to see what everyone is up to, some staying put with stores of booze collected for the occasion, running into alums (more of whom came back for Little 500 than for Homecoming) all in an atmosphere of liquor-fueled jackassery. I dare you to come up with something that is more fun. That's right; you can't.

As I recalled these memories, it also occured to me that those weeekends had a certain feel to them, a sense of fun but also a sense of finality.

It was the last big event of the year before graduation weekend and it always struck me as being the beginning of the end of the year.

My first three years at SJC, these weekends meant that soon I would have to transition back to living at home mode; not bad, just different. I would have to search for boxes for all of my crap, finish any academic projects that were outstanding and buy the yearly pot of plaster to patch my walls up. The summer stretched out before me, I had three months of Bulider's Square to look forward (?) to, and it would be quite some time before I would see my beloved gang of cronies again.

My senior year, naturally, was different. I realized that this would be the last time that it would ever be like this. Oh, I returned for Little 500 as an alum (my brother still had three more years to go when I graduated), and recaptured a little of that magic, but there inevitably felt that there was something missing, something that was gone forever.

That last year, as the future spread before me, it was after Little 500 when I realized for the first time that this phase was coming to an end and a new one was beginning to show itself. I realized that the old gang would go their separate ways and, despite occasional reunions, would ever quite be the same again.

I guess a certain amount of this change is good, but I cannot help but get a bit meloncholy over that wonderful place and time being lost forever; finding this old beat-up t-shirt just brought a lot of that back.

I have not been to Little 500 since my brother graduated in 2002, and I have only been back to Rensselaer once since then. I guess that there would be no real reason to go back unless I knew some of my old crew would be around. Maybe that'll happen, maybe not. Who knows?

It is always interesting for someone like a historian to consider the story of one's own life. It does show the difficulty of "doing history" in that memory and fact often don't match up and that sometimes things as presented in the evidence are not as you remember them.

I say, given the situation, and that I am not exactly someone who is (or likely will be) crucial to the history of the human race, that I will keep my memories how I remember them and the truth be damned. They were good times in my life; I am not going to let some feeble attempt at "practicing what I preach" ruin something that is quite special to me.

Would you?


Matt Jenks said...

My friend, you sucked me down into the depths of nostalgia with your post.
I still remember 80s Rob climbing up in the middle of the Halleck fountain and pissing on the night before the race that same fateful year (1997) and me filling a shoe in front of Halas with my own urine. I believe that was the year that I found the cup that I'm drinking out of right now. God, the memories are so thick I could cut them with a knife right now.
Sadly (and happily all at once) they are just memories. Sometimes I get a little bit wrapped up in them when I see the Geico commercial with the two kids in the hallway slamming into each other with their mattresses. What a wonderful feeling.

It's sad and depressing that the old gang doesn't get together much anymore. I blame it all on my father-in-law, for making me move to North Carolina only to see him move to South Bend a few months later.

With Padre K gone from St. Joe, bound for grad school, I don't know if we have a nice, central location to meet, but the next time I'm in Indiana (unless it's for a funeral or something) I'll let you know.

Passing comments on a blog just don't have the same feel as putting down a case of Sam Adams, shooting pool, and threatening to draw on my face as I begin to drift off.

Matthew said...

What the hell!! Matt Owens' is seen in cyberspace?! The world must be ending!

Actually, I was bored/procrastinating and decided to read Will's blog for the first time in ages. Of course, his most recent post was about a place dear to me (SJC), so I figured I had to comment.

Though I don't remember much specifically from the Little 5s (though alcohol had little to do with that), I remember always looking forward to the event and its surrounding glory. . . . How many crashes would Plug have or cause? Which pale white person would get the worst sun burn? Which of my friends in drunken stupors would confess uncomfortable things to me? Would Kirch fall down? How many fines would our dorm have to pay for damages the alumni caused?

Returning as an alum is not the same, especially when other people don't show up (I'm looking toward NC and WI right now, which is painful to do at one time). Obviously I understand you couldn't make it, but we definitely have to find a time again to catch up. I had a nice time in Southbend (never thought I'd say that) last time even though Giles and Greski weren't there.

Okay, I think I have made up for my years of bloglessness with this long post. I am a much better phone person, but I don't think I have your most recent phone numbers (cell/home). If you two could email them to me, I can give you a call once a while. I know, it's very manly. . . . just like blogs.

Lost A Sock said...

I'm not sure how I missed this entry, but I'm chiming in late here.

What a wonderful walk down memory lane! Little 5 was definitely all of those things, and though I never participated in the race itself, always had so much fun. Campus was buzzing at that time of year. Something we can never recapture, even if we tried (my kids would die if they saw their father pee out a third story window. Who's keeping secrets?)