Brian Goes To College
by Nick Brady
Copyright @copy; 2015-2016 by Nick Brady, all rights reserved.
Sunday was church and Sunday afternoon was tennis. Brian was feeling good and was able to focus on the game better this time. While he was not quite competitive with the others, he held his own and made very few real blunders. After a full set Ethan and Brian prevailed over the ladies, chiefly due to Ethan. They adjourned to the living room for lemonade.
"You're getting better," Ethan observed.
"Well if I am it's because I have good instructors," Brian smiled. "I have to admit that I was beginning to relax and enjoy the game today."
"I think that's a lot of it," Cathy said, "When we try too hard we get all tense. It has to be fun or there is no point to it."
"Your serve is even getting stronger," Louisa told him, "and more accurate."
"We have enjoyed this tennis thing with you Brian. Will you be able to continue this summer?" Cathy asked.
"I will be going to school here in Tulsa and living at home, so I don't know why not. But Louisa will be away for awhile and then will be busy with her school in the fall. That kind of screws up the doubles."
Ethan smiled, "She will be at TU here in town and can join us most Sundays. But if she is tied up and you still want to play, we can start playing singles with you. The pressure is a little different when you have to cover the whole court. It might sharpen your game. I do enjoy having a regular game."
"Well, I would enjoy that. I appreciate your spending the time with me," Brian said.
"I am doing this mostly because I'm enjoying it," Ethan assured him, "If we're teaching you tennis that's a bonus."
"In that case I will pencil you in on my busy calendar," Brian laughed. He turned to Louisa, "I know you are going to attend the University of Tulsa. Will you be living at home? What are your plans?"
"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought I talked about that, I didn't mean to be mysterious. I think I am going to join a sorority. Mother was a Chi Omega and Daddy was a Sigma Chi. I have always thought that would be fun."
"I can see that would be nice," Brian replied, "but I don't guess I have ever thought about that. I don't think OU in Tulsa has any fraternities or sororities."
"No, I doubt that they do. Most students there are day students. I don't know that there are any residence halls in Tulsa," Ethan agreed. "Would that be important to you?"
Brian shrugged, "No, not really. I'm not all that sociable. I probably wouldn't be much of a fraternity guy anyway."
"Well then, that's not a problem," Ethan laughed.
"Am I missing something?" Brian asked.
"Not really. I had several friends who were pledging and sort of went with the flow. It was OK, but my life would not have changed if I was independent. But since I needed to find housing at college, a fraternity was a good option. Had I been living at home I wouldn't have done it."
"But you will be here in Tulsa, why not live at home?" Brian asked Louisa.
"It just sounds like fun," She replied with a smile. "I guess I want to experience university life and I might miss something living at home."
"Sure, I can see that," Brian returned her smile. "Well, we will find out what it's like I suppose."
"I have to admit I'm excited about it," Louisa said, "I went through rush week and got a bid from Chi Omega. It will be fun being in Mom's old sorority when the term starts in the fall."
Brian looked around, "I think I had better going on. I want to thank you for your hospitality and for the tennis instruction. I'm beginning to have hope."
"You're coming right along. Consider this a work in progress," Ethan smiled, "You will be busy when classes start yourself. But when you are free we will look forward to another game."
"Thank you," Brian excused himself and started for his car. Louisa walked out with him.
Brian sat in the car and Louisa talked to him through the open window.
"I have enjoyed the last few weeks," she said. "We will both be a little busy for awhile, but I hope we can find the time to get together."
"Well I hope so Louisa. But I know you will be making a lot of new friends."
"So will you Brian. I worry that you isolate yourself. Be open to making new friends. College is not like high school. There will be people from all over, from a lot of different backgrounds," Louisa smiled that wonderful smile, "I hope you find someone who is right for you. Be happy Brian." Then she leaned in, gave him a peck on the cheek and walked back into the house.
Classes started on Monday morning. Brian was enrolled in English Composition and an Intermediate Biology course. While he was a little concerned that he would be up to the college level classes, he knew he was a good student and felt confident that this would work out for him. Because it was summer school the classes only lasted for four weeks with a compressed program. It was a semester of instruction crammed into four weeks.
He reported first for the English class with a backpack containing the required textbooks and a paper notepad. His first impression was that this was not at all like high school. There were about twenty in the class and the students were a mix of ages and nationalities. There had been a few foreign students in high school, but it looked like half the class here were from outside the US. There were three other white skinned guys, and maybe half a dozen girls. The foreign born students were all male and appeared to be from the middle east. This was different.
The instructor was a stout older man who introduced himself as Dr. Dentin Brown, and went through a handful of note cards, determining that the people in his class were properly enrolled. He called out names and individuals responded in a variety of accents. One of the very dark skinned students sounded like he was American. There was a slender blond fellow who had an interesting accent which was not familiar to Brian. He liked the idea that he would be part of a diverse group. This was college.
When the instructor was satisfied that he people in the room all belonged there, he began to share his expectations.
"This is a class in composition," he told them. "I assume that you know how to read, here we will see if you can write. There will be some reading assignments and a discussion of reference materials, but my emphasis will be on what you can put into the written word. We will talk about writing for various purposes. Technical writing is not quite like fiction. Dialog is not like narrative and prose is not like poetry, except when it is. I want to know if you can string words together to say something clearly and meaningfully. If you can evoke emotion in the process, then so much the better. Let's get started. I want a small paper for tomorrow which describes the house you grew up in and something interesting that happened in that place. Any questions? Please give me your name."
"Yes?" he called on a short stocky girl who raised her hand.
"My name is Angela. Does this need to be factual or can we invent something?"
"I think it will be simpler for you if it is factual, and more interesting for the rest of us. It will be my practice to select the essays that I think are both the best and the worst of the papers submitted, and will read a few of them aloud to get your critique of them."
There were several groans to he heard.
"Don't worry, I will allow the author to remain anonymous, names will be omitted to protect the guilty. Any other questions? Yes, in the back."
"My name is Akeem. Will we have to write a paper every day?" a dark skinned student asked with a thick accent. "Some of us are not native speakers of English."
"I understand that, but if you wish to be properly understood you will need to learn to write without an accent, even if you speak with one. The beauty of the written word is that it creates a sound in the mind of the reader which overcomes any oral prejudices. Many writers use elegant language in their written work that renders their spoken language invisible. I don't mean to impose an additional burden on non-natives but after all, you are here to learn to write. But I assure you that I am not an unreasonable man. I am here to teach, as much as you are here to learn. If you struggle, my office is open to assist you. However, I will not indulge in ghost-writing. Any other questions?"
There were none.
"Very well then. I will dismiss you and let you get to work. I would like for your essays to be type written and between two and five pages single spaced. Good luck."
Since the class had been dismissed some twenty minutes earlier than expected, the students walked out and exchanged some impressions of the assignment.
"I think this will be very hard for me," Akeem said. "I hope he understands that writing in another language is difficult.
Another foreign student told him, "We may have to work a little harder, but we will learn even more, my friend. I am not a native speaker of English but I want to be invisible as the man said. I think this will be a good class. When I was a student in Egypt my English instructor was not proficient and I need this knowledge. I will work with you if you like. We can do this, you will see."
A tall blond student walked out next to Brian and was smiling to himself. "You don't look worried," Brian said.
"No, I am from Denmark and I know I speak with some accent, but I really know English quite well. We learn English as a second language beginning in the third grade. I would like to write fiction and adventure stories and need to know the essentials of good writing."
"Well, I grew up here in Tulsa and I'm not sure just how good my English is myself," Brian admitted, "I may speak Okie rather than proper English."
"So you will share my concerns," The young man laughed. "Since we will be together in this class I should introduce myself, I am Gunder," he extended his hand to shake Brian's.
"And I'm Brian. What brings you to Tulsa, Gunder?"
"I have a relative here and have always wanted to visit America. You are the land of opportunity you know."
"That's cool. I have never been outside of the states. I would love to travel someday."
"No doubt you will once you are rich and famous," Gunder's eyes twinkled.
Brian liked this tall Dane, "I have another class at one o'clock, but we have time for lunch. Would you like to get something to eat? There is a McDonald's just across the street."
Gunder laughed, "The ubiquitous McDonald's. They are everywhere, even in Denmark. Certainly, I can eat a Big Mac. I also have a class this afternoon, shall we brave the traffic and walk across?"
They looked both ways and raced across at a break in the traffic. Once inside they ordered and sat down to eat their lunch. "So you are a native of Tulsa?" Gunder asked.
"Yes, I've lived here all my life. You majoring in English?" Brian asked.
"Yes, English and American History. I find your country quite fascinating."
"Our history is kind of short compared to yours."
"Perhaps in some ways, but you have native people who go back thousands of years, and those of European heritage will find that the history of this country is in some ways an extension of the history of many other places. That is one of the interesting things about this country. You are such a wonderful mixture of people from all over the world."
"Well that's true I guess. I have family who are Native American, Seminole Indian. They do powwows and everything."
"Oh really. How interesting. I would love to see a powwow, I have only heard of such things," he looked curious, "But you could be a Dane, you don't look like you are Native American."
"No, to tell you the truth, I don't know what I am, I'm just American I guess. I'm not a natural son to the family I live with."
Gunder nodded, "That is probably an interesting story. Perhaps you will tell me sometime."
"So you live with a relative here?" Brian was curious.
"Yes, with the sister of my mother, my aunt. She married an American engineer who was working in Denmark, then moved here with him. She has lived here for almost twenty years," Gunder laughed, "She is thoroughly Americanized by now. You would take her for a native Okie. Is that a derogatory term?"
Brian smiled, "No, at least not any more. During the depression a lot of people from Oklahoma moved to California and were called 'Okies'. I guess John Steinbeck popularized the term. I think we have taken it as a nickname with a certain sense of pride now."
"Oh, that's very interesting. I hope you will help me to learn things like that. The most interesting history is not always in books."
Brian looked at his watch. "I have about fifteen minutes until my next class. I need to find it. Are you ready to go?"
"Yes, I am finished with this," he pointed to his partly eaten burger, "I hope you are not offended, but I am not enamored with this sandwich."
"McDonald's kind of sucks if you ask me," Brian grinned, "but it's about the closest thing to the campus. I know some better places if we do this again."
"I hope we will," Gunder smiled. "I have enjoyed our conversation.""
"They walked back to the classrooms. "What is your next class?" Gunder asked.
"I have a biology class next, and you?"
"It is a beginning class in American History. I studied some of that in my high school but I don't think it was complete. But I should ask, what do you study, your major?"
I'm in pre-med through a Classics program."
"Pre-med? Does that mean you will be a doctor eventually?"
"Well, that's the plan. The major course of study is in history, literature and the humanities with all the pre-med courses as electives."
"Oh how interesting. Is that customary?"
"There are several ways to go about it, but I think a better understanding of the human condition will make me a better doctor."
"Hmm, that sounds like a good idea. Well in that case we may have another class together sometime. I hope so." They parted in front of Brian's classroom building. Gunder offered his hand again, "Thank you for a nice lunch Brian. I suppose I will see you tomorrow."
"Thank you Gunder. I'll look forward to that."
Brian checked his schedule, located his classroom and found a seat. This was a larger room and soon there were about fifty students in place. The mix of students was similar to his English class except that the ratios of male to female was higher.
A young instructor walked in and wrote his name on the white board. "I am Victor Swartzkopf as you can see. I will be your lecturer. You will have a lab on Friday at this same time in the next building. The required materials for that are on a handout near the door. Please take one and be prepared. We have a great deal of material to cover in only four weeks. Please take good notes, much of your tests will be based on the lecture. He took a stack of note cards and read through it quickly, not being much concerned with the responses.
"If you think you should be enrolled in this class but your name was not called, you should check with the registrar. Shall we begin?"
Brian did not have a great feeling about this guy. He began his lecture, reviewing those things which he indicated they should already know, then made a lengthy reading assignment and dismissed the class precisely on time.
The students shuffled out with little conversation. College had begun with mixed reviews as far as Brian was concerned. He wondered if Louisa was in California by now. He hoped that her day was going well.
When he walked in the house he found Marco at work in the kitchen. "Hey, there's the scholar. How was your day?"
Brian tossed his pack on the sofa. "It was OK I guess. The composition class looks good, the biology maybe not so much."
"Oh? How's that?"
"It's just the first day, but the comp instructor seemed kind of interesting. The biology class looks like a gorge and regurgitate sort of thing, you know, all lecture, take notes, no questions please. There is a lab on Friday. Maybe that will be more exciting."
"Maybe you will get to dissect a frog or something," Marco laughed.
"Maybe, I did that in high school so I guess I can handle it."
"Did you meet anybody interesting?" Marco asked.
"Yeah, I had lunch with a guy from Denmark. There are quite a few foreign students in my classes."
"Is that right? I understand that people from overseas like to study here if they can."
"It looks like it. Where are the trouble twins?''
Marco chuckled, "They should be here pretty soon. They are riding their bike since the weather is nice. They went over to see their friend Austin I think."
"So are they free roaming this summer?"
""Yes, as long as I have a general idea of where they are and who they're with. They will be fifteen before the summer is over and are generally pretty responsible. I don't want to ride herd on them too much. I think I can count on them being here in time for supper."
Brian smiled, "They're OK."
He went up to his bedroom and opened the classroom materials. He decided to do the biology first to get it out of the way. He had taken copious notes and saw that it was mostly a review of what he already knew. The reading assignment was likewise and he went through it quickly. Looking ahead in the text he saw that the material looked more interesting later on. He hoped so.
He picked up his laptop from the desk and leaned back in bed. Where did he live as a kid and what was interesting about it. Hmm. Let's see, he lived with a pair of drunks and his father liked to sneak in his bedroom and fuck his little ass. That would make an impression on his instructor. OK, seriously now, what could he write?
He decided on a sanitized version of the truth. He described their house which was simple enough – two bedroom frame house, no garage, both parents worked, no siblings. What was interesting about that place and time? Maybe his dog. He had a little beagle named Snoopy for awhile when he was five or six. It disappeared after a couple of years but he remembered he liked it. Snoopy was cute and friendly and slept in his bedroom. He took care of it and taught him some tricks. Snoopy could sit up, roll over and would fetch almost anything although sometimes he was reluctant to bring it right back. But that was boring. Every little boy had a dog at one time or another.
Then he remembered what happened to Snoopy. One night his father came home drunk and slapped him and Snoopy bit his dad. He remembered that his father threw the dog out the front door and it made him cry. He didn't remember the dog after that. He hadn't thought about that in years. Could he put that in his story? It was easier to take then revealing that his father abused him. What did Dr. Brown want? He said to be factual. Making up a sweet little story would not be factual and boring as well. Oh well, here's to nothing.
He wrote it all out without bothering to worry about spelling or punctuation, just letting it spill out, feeling himself get angry as he recalled the incident. When he got it all down he sat up and went to the bathroom, peed and drank a glass of water. He could feel his heart racing.
He heard Sam and Ben come crashing into the house and then talking with Marco. Brian went back to his laptop and read over what he had written. It was full of technical errors, but concise, factual and full of honest if restrained emotion. Maybe this was what the instructor wanted. He went through and edited it carefully until it was free of errors, polished it up a bit, read through it one last time, then printed it out, making a second copy for himself. It would have to do.
He heard Marty come in the house and walk into to the kitchen to talk with Marco. Putting everything back in his pack he joined the twins in the living room.
"Hi Brian. Did you start school today?" Ben asked him.
"I did, both classes, English and Biology."
"Was it cool? Were your teachers OK?" Sam wondered.
"I liked my English teacher but the Biology teacher, not so much."
"Why? Was he mean? Ben wanted to know.
"No, just kind of boring. So what did you guys do today?"
"Nothing really," Sam admitted, "We rode over to Austin's and hung out. He had some new video games, that was cool."
"There aren't as many kids around here as in our old neighborhood," Ben complained.
"Maybe you need to play baseball again this summer," Brian suggested.
Ben shrugged, "I wouldn't mind that. We have scout camp coming up pretty soon too."
"Speaking of scouts, how are you guys doing on your merit badges for Life Scout? You still have several of the required badges left to do," Brian reminded him.
"We're working on them," Ben assured him. "We can do most of them at camp."
"OK, I was just asking."
Marco called them to dinner and they all sat down together.
"How was the first day of classes Brian?" Marty asked.
"It was OK, interesting English Comp, boring Biology is the short version."
"Well, you've got something to do," Sam said, "I'd almost as soon go to school as have nothing to do all day."
"I can find something for you to do," Marty suggested.
"Almost, I said almost," Sam grinned.
They ate Marco's dinner then played monopoly after the kitchen was straightened up. Brian sat back and watched, amused by the chatter and teasing that went back and forth. If Sam and Ben someday were given the assignment of relating their home situation it would be a very different story – a much better story, and not boring at all.
Back in his bedroom Brian undressed and got ready for bed. He thought over his first day as a college student. No doubt it was not as exciting as if he was in a new city staying in a dorm or maybe a fraternity house far away. But he didn't relish that idea. This was about as new and strange as he was ready for. He would much prefer to live in the security of this house with this family.
The biology class was probably going to be a little boring although the lab was yet to be seen. But then, it didn't have to be entertaining for him to learn what he was supposed to learn. The English comp class looked like fun however. After the reaction to his first assignment he would have a better idea what the instructor wanted. He felt a little bad for the foreign students whose English was marginal. How well would he do if he had to write an essay in Egyptian?
His mind wandered to Gunder. Gunder was interesting, tall and blond, obviously intelligent and with a sense of humor. He might be friends with Gunder. What was his childhood home like, and what did he remember as interesting about it? What would it be like to grow up in Denmark? It would surely be cold in the winter. The Nordic people had to be a hardy lot. They were supposed to have a more casual attitude about nudity and sex in those places. Could you be gay there and not be treated as a pariah? What would that be like?
He wondered what Gunder looked like naked, then decided he shouldn't think about that. Gunder was slender but not exactly skinny, in fact he might be very athletic. People in that part of the world liked to hike and ski. Maybe Gunder was good at those kinds of things. Brian had never been on skis. Gunder was probably uncircumcised, that was common in Europe, and probably with blond pubes. Brian had been a towhead when he was little, but now was more light brown than blond, and his pubes were a little darker yet. Gunder's hair was very blond, almost white. What color were his eyes? Blue he thought, yes, very pale blue. Gunder looked pretty good.
Brian rolled over and tried to will himself to sleep but his mind was too busy. After a time he sighed, took a handful of tissues from the box on his nightstand and pushed his boxers down to his knees. He needed to quiet himself. The image of a tall blond Scandinavian guy danced naked in his head as he comforted himself, then fell asleep.
Brian was up early to drink coffee with Marco. "You are always the first one out of bed, Marco."
"I like to read the newspaper when the house is quiet. I get Marty off to work then see what Sam and Ben want. Now that they are older I can go work in my studio and let them take care of themselves."
"You still share the studio with Mr. Vandergraff your old teacher, right?"
"Yes, I've learn a lot from him."
"Did you tell him about selling all your paintings in Santa Fe? I bet he was impressed."
Marco laughed, "He was more than impressed. He's been a great help to me Brian. He taught me so much about the technical aspects of painting, and bolstered my confidence. He also kicked my butt a little when I needed it. He's really a fine gentleman."
"It has to feel good to see your work paying off finally. That was a lot of money from one art show."
"It does feel good, Brian. I guess I've always had almost a phobia about being a financial drain on Marty. I wanted to pay my own way. But when we married I began to realize that there are different ways to contribute to the relationship. Seeing my work sell out and receiving orders for things from several dealers felt very good."
Marco got up and poured them both another cup of coffee. "The money is nice, Brian. Selling a painting or receiving a paycheck is tangible evidence that what you do has value. The more money, the more value I guess. But it's really not the money that makes me feel good, it's the recognition, the affirmation that I'm good at what I do. The funny thing is, now that I'm finally making some money from my art, we don't really need it. Marty makes enough to keep us comfortable and the inheritance from his mother has really secured our future. To tell the truth, I'm not sure what to do with my money. I have a separate checking account to keep track of it."
Brian nodded thoughtfully as Marco shared his feelings. "How old is that Honda Fit you drive?"
"It's a 2007 model but it still runs pretty well, why?"
"Did you ever think about getting a new car? I mean, you can certainly afford it now."
"I don't know, I guess I could. I kind of hate to think about getting rid of the old Fit, it was the first set of wheels I ever had."
"You don't really need to trade it in, do you"
"Not really, it wouldn't be worth that much as a trade in anyway. I guess we could use a spare car. Sam and Ben will be old enough to drive in a year or so."
"You might think about that," Brian grinned, "then every time you got in that new car you can remind yourself that your work has value."
Marco laughed, "You think so?"
Marty came into the kitchen all dressed for the office, "Good morning. What are you two talking about?"
"Good morning. Brian is trying to talk me into buying a new car," Marco smiled.
"It's about time you retired that antique you drive."
"Now now, that has been a faithful old car," Marco protested.
"Even faithful old horses eventually get put out to pasture," Marty smiled, "Get yourself something fun."
Marco shrugged, "Maybe. I'll think about it."
Sam and Ben were ready to go car shopping.
"What will you get, Daddy?" Ben asked.
"I don't know that I will get anything," Marco replied.
"Actually, I think that's a good idea," Marty volunteered. "A successful artist should enjoy the fruits of his labor."
"Well, what would I get, something practical I suppose."
"We have a Toyota van and a Hyundai Santa Fe, how many practical cars do we need? You should get something fun," Marty told him. "Why don't you look around?"
Marco shrugged and smiled, "Maybe. I might think about it."
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