I had wanted to go to Europe for the summer after I finished college, but I had a job that started June 3 and what kind of idiot English major takes a trip instead of accepting a job? An idiot MBA will do it but not an idiot English major. English majors are far more realistic and practical than MBAs is what we can learn from this.
Still, I was anxious about the financial impracticality of my upcoming adventure and even worked myself into such a state of anxiety one day that I threw up. I threw up so hard that I burst all the blood vessels around my eyes and had red eyes for a day or two and then black/green/purple/yellow eyes. I was lovely.
Lovely and -- going to Europe. I had exams the first few days of May, then a seven-day interval before my last final, in microeconomics. I asked my micro prof if I could take the exam early so I could get to Barcelona earlier, but he said no, what if everyone wanted to take the final early? I shrugged and said what if? Then he rather implied that I might cheat, even though I scored the highest mark on the midterm in the whole class.
I had had a hard time with the material, so had studied and studied and studied. I was the last person to turn in my midterm because I had checked and re-checked everything. I thought I was the dumbest person taking the test.
This professor was not a fan of mine. I sat in the front row because I was a front-row sitter. I had learned my lesson from college, where I often did not wear my glasses to class because - get this - they were ugly glasses. Not wearing glasses = not being able to see the board, which is a necessary thing for oh, calculus and chemistry. Little wonder I became an English major, hey?
Anyhow, I was a glasses-wearing front-row sitter in grad school because by golly, I was paying for this myself (I also paid for college, but that was loans not cash out of my savings account and you pay a lot more attention to paying money you've earned than you do to money that has not yet been earned) and I was going to be darn sure I learned. One day, the prof was explaining in a very painful and convoluted way an algebraic process that was really just taking the derivative in calculus. I leaned over to the guy next to me, whose undergraduate degree was in mechanical engineering, and whispered, "Isn't he just taking the derivative?"
The engineer, who was from Argentina, whispered back, "Siiii."
The prof stopped. Walked up to me. Asked if I had something to share with the class.
Oh yes. Even in grad school, they treat you like third graders. Although we were acting like third graders, so there you go.
"Yes," I answered. "I want to know why you don't just say, 'Take the derivative.'"
"Because if I did that, half this class would pass out," he said.
Ever the smart aleck and has to have the last-worder, I said, "You're supposed to have a year of calculus as a prerequisite for this program."
He rolled his eyes at me as he returned to the blackboard.
Back to the midterm and we'll get to Rome, I promise you. The class after the midterm, I sat nervously, waiting for my score. I was early to class because that's how I roll. The professor saw me sitting there and walked up to me, holding a sheet of paper in front of him. He stood still in front of me, holding the paper out for me to see. It was a list of test scores, from highest to lowest. I looked in the middle of the paper for my social security number and score, but didn't see it. I went all the way to the bottom of the paper and still didn't see my number. Then I looked back up. At the very top of the list, with a score only two points from perfect, was my number.
I looked up at him and smiled.
"I'm reviewing the test today," he said.
"Do I need to stay?" I asked.
"I should think not," he answered.
And yet he thought I would cheat on the final? The scores were curved. I would never sabotage my own score that way.
I'm getting to Rome. I'm getting to Rome. He wouldn't let me take the test early, so I waited and took the darn test and then left for Barcelona the next day. I skipped my graduation.
Yes, I skipped my own graduation.
You know how there are always these letters to Dear Abby in May about how Oh no! I won't have enough tickets to invite Great Aunt Joan to my son's high school graduation and she'll be soooo offended?
Great Aunt Joan is not offended.
Great Aunt Joan is thrilled.
I made a solemn vow after my college graduation that I would never attend another graduation again, either for myself or for another person. Circumstances dictated that I attend one graduation a few years ago, but with God as my witness, I will never ever ever sit through another graduation again as long as I live.
I will watch paint dry first.
Seriously, is there anything more mind-blowingly dull than watching a graduation?
No there is not.
I finished my tests, skipped graduation, and got on the plane to Barcelona, where my friend Lenore met me, and from there we took the train to Rome, where we were going to stay in her friend Bob's apartment while he was on vacation elsewhere. We had reserved seats in a compartment into which extra people, who did not have reserved seats, squeezed themselves and smoked. The window would not open. The corridors were filled with smokers. It was hot. Hot, smelly smokers. Not enough room. Oh how I treasure those student travel days.
After a very long, sweaty trip, we arrived in Rome. I had read in my guidebook that the Rome train station was rife with pickpockets and I was on guard. While Lenore went to call someone about getting the key to Bob's apartment, I found a strategically sound spot to stand and guard our luggage. My back was to the wall so I had only 180 degrees of area to patrol.
A tall Ethiopian man, holding an unlit cigarette, approached from my right. He gestured to me and I turned to look at him. Did I have a light? he seemed to be pantomiming.
I shook my head.
He pantomimed again.
I impatiently tried to explain that I didn't smoke and I didn't have any matches. Sheesh!
That's when I heard someone shouting on my left.
I turned to see a little Italian man grabbing the elbow of another Ethiopian man. Ethiopian Man #2 was holding my backpack. Which contained my laundry, an apple, some cheese, and my camera, back in the days when cameras were actually worth something.
I snatched the backpack from EM #2 and punched him in the arm.
The little Italian man scolded me. I don't speak Italian but I got the gist of what he was saying: Lady you need to pay attention. PAY ATTENTION!
Nothing like being chewed out in a language you don't speak by someone you don't know.
Lenore and I made it to the apartment. We were pretty tired after being cooped up in the reserved, we paid extra for our own seats but got crowded by seat cheaters, compartment. We boiled some pasta and ate it with butter, then went to bed.
Shortly after we had turned out the lights, we heard a noise. A thumping. A loud, rhythmic thumping. A loud, rhythmic thumping on the wall behind our headboard. A loud, rhythmic thumping that we would feel very lightly in our bed* but was enough to make the crucifix above Bob's bed move. (I don't think Bob was particularly religious - I think the crucifix might have belonged to his landlord. Or maybe there was no crucifix at all and I am remembering one simply because it makes for a better story.)
Then the moaning started.
Is there anything better than listening to someone else's oral delight in sexual activity as it happens?
You know - like those movies we watched in 7th grade history: You Are There. I just googled that phrase. I am not losing my mind. Walter Cronkite did an entire series of You Are There. It happened. I was there.
Lenore and I lay there, waiting. For you know. For it to be over.
And soon, but not soon enough, it was.
The next night, the same thing. Plus an encore presentation at 2:00 a.m.
Lord. Have. Mercy.
At the time, that did not seem so remarkable.
But from middlish-ageness, with job stresses and late nights working and taxes due and sleep so very, very precious, it looks completely different. This was before viagra. Although we have no way of knowing if the same people were involved in each event, if you know what I mean.
Every night while we were there, Lenore and I were treated to a show.
Our strategy was to wear ourselves out walking around Rome all day long and back up the long, steep hill to the apartment so that by nighttime, we were so exhausted that nothing could keep us awake.
We never did ask Bob if that was normal or if his neighbor had also lent out his apartment.
* If there is only one bed in a sleeping place, women friends will just share the darn bed. Men, I think, are more likely to insist that one man sleep on the sofa and the other sleep in the bed.