Sunday night found us bunking with Sis and her husband at their farm outside Prairie City which is just east of Des Moines.
Sis and I met at Hoyt Middle School when I was a second year teacher and she had left her hectic high school position in a self-mommy tracking move just before the birth of her second daughter of three. She is the older sister I don’t have naturally. Siblings are a hit and miss affair naturally and it seems to me that most of us acquire brothers and sisters outside familial bounds as we travel through life who better suit us. Sis suits me.
She offered her home as a way station and, as she always does, overfed us as a byproduct.
BFF and her youngest daughter, who is about eight months younger than Dee, joined us for the afternoon and for dinner.
Staying at hotels means you are in charge of the schedule. Sleep isn’t at anyone’s mercy other than your own. Staying with friends and relatives inevitably means exhaustion is on the horizon.
Due to poor mattresses and thin walls, Rob and I were already on the leading edge of sleep deprivation and the gap only widened as the week went on.
On Monday we met up with a dear old friend from college in Iowa City. Dee was mildly curious about my college days. Mildly because she finds the idea of my having had a life previous to our current situation one that conflicts with her notion that I have always been her mother and that nothing that came before her could be worth effort required to remember it.
I took her and Rob on a stroll through sections of campus that made up the bulk of my time there. Dee was most intrigued by the Old Capitol building. It sits in the middle of the Pentacrest which are halls that make up the original college. Old Capitol was the first seat of government when Iowa was just a territory and during its early years as a state. Monday meant it was closed, but Rob snapped a few shots of us in front of it and Dee peered in the large windows.
My old dorm was open, and since there were large groups of high schoolers and their parents being led about, it was accessed easily and without question.
Not surprisingly, most of the changes were fairly superficial with the biggest one being the removal of the cafeteria were I worked for a couple of years. Interestingly, the mailboxes were exactly the same. And, as we were walking back to the main campus, we strolled by an old man who looked at me with a faint glimmer of recognition. I had no trouble remembering him.
Smiley is a fixture in Iowa City. Tamer now than back in the day, he is mentally challenged with a side of creepy stalker thrown in just to make it interesting. He liked pretty girls. Young pretty girls. Which meant I didn’t attract his attention much but for years after graduating whenever I was in I.C. visiting and ran across him, he usually approached me.
I hurried Rob and Dee up. There is only so much nostalgia I am into. Small talk with a guy whose main hobby was deviance and harassment wasn’t on my agenda.
My chief memory of Smiley was the guys from the dishroom egging him on as we sat in the hall having dinner before our evening shift. He would try to sit by me – too close – and was always on about wanting my picture. I was not the only girl who thwarted Smiley’s quest to cover his walls with pictures of young women, but I was probably one of the most terse.
He nearly always had his camera with him but not at work.
“I could take your picture after work,” he said one night.
“Yeah,” one of the guys chimed in, “you could pose for him.”
“No, Smiley,” I said. “I don’t want my picture taken.”
Then one of the morons I worked with suggested to Smiley that he could simply wait around outside and take my picture as I was leaving.
“If you take my picture without my permission, I will take your camera and break it,” I told him.
Smiley is mentally retarded. There is no question that he is limited and that his emotional level is pre-teen at best. My statement of intent made him angry and I picked up my tray and went to another table while he ranted that I couldn’t do that and the guys ribbed him and me.
After I finished eating and Smiley had huffed and puffed his way into the kitchen, I went back to the guys who were still eating and said,
“Don’t you ever fucking do that again,” I said.
“Aw, we were just kidding,” someone said. Clearly I couldn’t take a joke.
“And when he finally goes from taking pictures to attacking girls? Will it still be a joke?”
No one said anything but no one was smiling as I turned away. Smiley was steered clear of me after that. He did eventually require police intervention when his picture-taking turned menacing and he purposely stalked a girl on the cheer squad. It got a bit ugly though she wasn’t physically harmed and the guys on campus stopped treating Smiley as an amusing lark.
Later at lunch, my chum Les remarked that Smiley had slowed considerably in his seniorish years but,
“He never forgets a face.”
Les hasn’t changed which is funny because she said the same thing of me when she saw me.
We lost touch just before I met Will. Addresses and phone numbers change so much in your twenties when jobs and boys and life in general shifts like the ground in an earthquake zone. People I knew in high school and college who coupled and bred in the decade between 19 and 29 were easier to keep track of. Rooting does that.
She had a photo album with party pictures from the dorm and the first years in rental houses/apartments. Nothing incriminating though I doubt much of that exists were I am concerned. My partying was sporadic and tame by any standard that could be applied.
I was so young once. I need to get her to copy a few to Facebook. There was one of us heading downtown on Halloween. I was Pippi Longstocking. I had totally forgotten.
We wandered the downtown and like my mother, Les knows everyone and at all the cool places. She introduced me to a semi-famous photographer carrying an armload of his new book at Prairie Light Bookstore. He and I talked education for a bit after he discovered I wrote for a blog. Being typical college town liberal, he had a too left view of teaching to make the conversation interesting for me, but I appreciated the opportunity to be taken seriously. Upstairs we chatted with a couple of employees who waited on President Obama the week before. The President stopped by to pick up a few books for his daughters while he was there to stump for his health care bill.
“He’s an impeccable dresser,“ one of them said.
“And so genuine,” remarked the other. “You just don’t get the sense that he is a politician.”
I just smiled and nodded. Obama is a politician, a genuinely good one, but as I said, I did the non-committal body language that people read in their favor thing.
Running about with Les reminded me that I don’t have girlfriends on a regular basis these days. No one to just pal with and talk about the old days – if that applies. It would have been fun to have had an extra day in Iowa City.
I had my typical college town fantasy, seeing us living there – me teaching and Rob tending house and whatever hobby/job tickled his fancy. We’d live in one of those older reno types close enough in to walk to my office on campus but far enough out that students wouldn’t ring us like soap in an old tub. This is a daydream of longstanding. It goes back to early widowhood. The place changes and Rob is an addition, but the basic vision of a semi-bohemian lifestyle of the liberally intellectual persists.
And then there was Dubuque…