Friday, August 5, 2016
How I Met Your Mother -- Part 1 (Re-posted with updated pic by request)
The first time I laid eyes on your mother was in the Evergreen Hall lounge on the Southern side of Rowan's campus. I had been running, which even in those days was more commonly a function of being late or being chased, than of exercise. I was ten or so minutes late for my first Peer Referral and Orientation Staff (PROS, as it was called) meeting of the year. You see kids, in those bygone days, public education was well-funded, and there existed a thriving, hearty middle class able to send its off-spring off to moderately priced, state colleges. Rowan held an over-night orientation to acclimate freshmen to the campus.
Oh, and kids, they also occasionally hired funny chubby guys. Accounting for me...and most of the people on staff I hung around with. Ok. All the people.
One of the many quirky traditions of that group was that returning "PROS" got to sit on couches outlying the lounge, while the "rookies," or new staff members, sat on the floor. Though I was only a sophomore, I had "made PROS" my freshmen year, and so, stepping through a valley of fifty or so "rookies," took a couch seat next to my buddy Pat MacCauley.
That's when I saw her. Among the rookies she sat, cross-legged on the floor. Her big red head. Her perpetual "hand-in-a-cookie-jar" grin. Her eyes so impossibly wide and wet and blue, like pictures of what Earth looks like from space.
"Who. Is. That?" I whispered to Pat, nodding in your mother's direction.
"You don't know Shannon Cogan?" he asked (that's Mommy). "She's a Sigma," (that's the name for the funny group of old broads your Mommy runs off with bi-annually).
"She's really cute," I said, still staring, like a creeper.
"Duh," Pat said.
Kids, I had looked at pretty girls before, from across crowded rooms even, but never like I saw your mother. She was my "Wonder Years" theme song moment (please pause here and refer to YouTube or download the entire series into your Apple iMind Insta-prehend Head-let Unit. Got it, now? Great.), complete with older Kevin Arnold, sensible interior monologue. She was brillant. Like looking up at the Empire State Building. Like sun through Saint Chappelle. Like the tumble of the Pacific on a misty morning. Like free Rita's on the first day of Spring. She was my Winnie Cooper moment. But unlike, Winnie Cooper she didn't look back at me. Not even once. Not even for a second. She didn't notice me at all.
But don't worry, kids, she would continue to not notice me for weeks to come.
It wasn't until orientation itself, later that summer, while both sneaking out of the Rowan Student Center to dodge PROS duties, that your mother and I finally talked.
It was during those little breaks in our summer job, that we found our common grounds, and what would become the basis of our friendship:
1. an unnatural obsession with the music of Pearl Jam.
2. a ridiculous sense of humor
3. the ability to talk and laugh louder and more obnoxiously than anyone who happened to share our vicinity.
I had never met anyone quite like her. When I, out of boredom, began singing Pearl Jam songs in a heavy Spanish accent, she fashioned some bongos out of stuff lying around the Student Center patio and played along. When I told innane stories about stealing pens or severing facial appendages, she'd not only laugh in full mouth uproar, but she would drag over innocent by-standers and say, "tell (random person) the story about the pen and the Indian girl" (Which reminds me, kids, when we're done here, I'll tell you the one about the pen and the Indian girl). That's the kind of girl your mother was. She drew a crowd, and if you were in that crowd, you felt it. Special, for lack of a better word. You felt like your ticket was punched. At least I always did.
Her laughter was, and still is, simply the greatest sound in the world to my ears, and through the years, I have gone to great lengths to hear it. Now, it is the background theme music to our lives, and that truth never stops making me feel like the luckiest person in the world.
That summer, kids, whenever we hung out, and it wasn't often, we had a blast. Telling stories. Teasing each other. Singing songs. Wearing sombreros through the streets of Glassboro. No, really. Sombreros. I don't know, kids. Does anyone ever remember where he found a sombrero? You just thank God you did, and move on.
Hanging with your mom was like hanging with one of the guys, except she had huge boobs. Oh, stop. They fed you all, didn't they?
But the funny thing about summer, kids. Is that it always ends. And life goes back to normal. Ask Danny Zucko. I didn't see much of your mother after that. We ran in different circle. Her, the cool, breezy, always smoothly social crowd. Me, the hazy, stodgy, always painfully awkward crowd. I was busy being an RA, serving on Student Council, running my fraternity...your mother was busy...um, you know...I'm sure she was doing something. Yet, cosmicly, throughtout that year, we had some strange run-ins.
One night, I found myself, very late, at your mother's sorority house. I went up to her room to say "hi," and we got to talking about Pearl Jam. We drank beers and reflected on lyrics. We broke apart Eddie's rock opera. We examined the entirety of the human condition through the PJ catalogue, and when we failed to find the root of man's suffering, we fell asleep. Your mom in her bed beneath her oversized, black and white poster of Eddie Vedder back to back with Jeff Ahmet, soaked in sweat, singing what we both agreed was "Alive." I, on the floor. Like a the gentleman I wanted her to think I was.
See kids, what I learned for the first time that night is that your mother is more analytical than she wants you to know. She can level you with her insights, so don't tempt her to do so just because you think she's not paying attention. She is a scary good writer and a quick thinker. She's good with words, and she'll use them for you, and she'll use them against you. I talk more than she does, but that, as you have probably figured out by now, means very little.
A month or so later, Phi Kap and Tri-Sig did a haunted house for charity in our big, beautiful, but soon to be condemned, despite its status as a historical landmark, frat house. Your mother, notoriously too cool for such high-jinx, but really scared out of her mind by this sort of Halloween thing, came over minutes before the event started. It was way after the real work had been done. She wore her sheer purple sorority jacket embroidered with the name of some other girl. Her uniform. She wore her Kool-Aid man smile. Practically a uniform. Her hair, red as the leaves, the perfect accent of a late October night.
"I only came because of you," she told me.
"Well, thank you," I said, pretending not to be impressed.
"So, what do you want me to do?"
"Wanna put on make-up? We are a few girls short in the kitchen scene. You could jump out from behind the closet."
"No thank you."
I was at a loss.
"I don't mind just hanging around. I don't like this kind of thing."
"No. I have the perfect part for you."
I stuck your mother in the upstairs bathroom with her friend. Her job was simple. Every time a tour passed by below, she was to throw her body half way out the window and scream at the top of her lungs. I was a tour guide, so I was often walking the patrons through as she did this. Every time she did it, someone screamed. And every time someone screamed, I could hear your mother giggling as we walked by.
Never forget, kids, your mother is savvy. And she does what she wants to do. You can learn alot from how she views the world. She is what she is. She doesn't look to raise anyone's expectations of her. She doesn't aim to raise eyebrows. She is happy to be as advertised. Take it or leave it. But you'll take it. And you won't like it, you'll love it. Because like me, you will be entranced by her attitude toward the proceedings, whatever they are, Haunted Houses for charity, PTA meetings, religous observances...she does what she do, and you're just happy to be leaving with her afterwards. One, because you want to be on her side. Two, because no matter how it went, she'll always buy you ice cream on the way home.
Then, there was the time we both found ourselves reluctantly participating in the "Bid for a Date" charity auction. The idea was that you walked out on stage, and the entire school could bid to win a date with you. Yup, for people who like a heaping helping of post-tramautic stress disorder with their community service. People would fight to win a date with you. Or they would not. At all.
Your mother looked amazing. Her hair was did. She wore purple. She was the last one to go that night. I was in the first half of the show. She was rife with anxiety. I had never seen her so shaken up. She was less worried about not being bid on, and more worried about "falling down or doing something stupid."
"Are you kidding?" I told her. "You're gonna be great."
But she just kept rattling on about how embarassing it was, and how her sorority always picked her to do the embarassing things because she was so loud and outgoing. When I walked away, I couldn't shake how upset she seemed. I had never seen her that way. Normally, she was so cool.
Your mother created a bidding war that night, finally going for $250...to your dad's friend and fraternity brother Kris Noyes. Your dad: a steal at $37.50!