Requiem For A Dormitory

This post may have limited appeal if you didn’t go to college with me. Consider yourself warned.

A couple of Saturdays ago I went to an alumni event at my undergraduate institution. Entitled “Farewell to Forrer,” it was a chance not only to see old friends and acquaintances but also to bid adieu to what had been the women’s dorm back in my day—it’ll be no more within the next several months, after they strip it down and perform various abatements. In its place will rise an expansive campus center.

Forrer Hall is/was a C-shaped building, with four stories of dorm rooms and a lower/basement level on two of its sides—the high-ceilinged front lobby eats up what would be one level of rooms on, well, the front. Several of the halls were traditionally occupied by members of the four sororities (each group also had a chapter room on the lower level). The campus cafeteria forms the fourth side of the square, and there’s a courtyard in the middle. It had opened in 1958 (which means my era came in the first half of its existence—yikes!).

Transy has done a lot of dorm-building over the last few years. One of the first pieces of that puzzle was to take down Clay-Davis, two men’s dorms that sat at right angles but shared a common lobby. I don’t remember there being a similar event held before their demolition (but who knows if I’m right?)—I would have enjoyed attending that immensely, particularly if I could have toured where the old WTLX studios had been one last time.

I had an overnight visit to Transy during my senior year of high school (my friend Frank also came along), somewhere around November 81. I’d guess my first trips through Forrer happened then, heading across the back circle from Davis to see the academic side, grabbing lunch in the cafeteria. The next time would have been move-in day the following September; I still remember my confusion when one of my new classmates told me that our mailboxes could be found over in “Foy-er” (at least that’s what I thought I heard through his Eastern Kentucky-ish accent).  “The foyer?” I responded.  We got it cleared up and I soon found Box 78 in Forrer’s back lobby.

It ordinarily takes me less than thirty minutes to get to Transy from where I live now. Festivities that evening started around 6:30pm, but I was delayed more than a little by a torrential shower on the way. James, Judy, and Suzanne were already on site. After we signed in, I went with James and Judy to take a gander at the now mostly-empty rooms on the first and second floors. Sometime since our graduation, they’d retrofitted them all with air conditioning (insert image here of old man complaining about how easy kids today have it). Judy found a couple of the rooms she’d lived in, though one was still being occupied by a student working on campus over the summer.  The event’s planning committee decorated a few rooms with memorabilia from each of the various decades of the dorm’s life. It was a game effort, but how can one possibly capture the feel of YOUR four years out of a ten-year span in a 12 by 12 space?

Suzanne eventually caught up with us—she’d eaten first—and we all soon headed back downstairs for the rest of us to get our dinner. How long had it been since I’d had a meal in that space? We sat in the “back” part of the cafeteria, a section I didn’t use all that much way back when (except for the spring of my freshman year when the front was closed, while construction of the current campus center was going on). The rest of our remaining time together was spent catching up and reminiscing, with an emphasis on the latter. At one point we walked across Broadway to the academic side of campus, to a courtyard where we sought out the bricks honoring my father and our friend Stacey.

It still surprises me on occasion how simply being in a place can transport one back in time. Several of my friends spent lots of time in the front lobby, so I was there plenty. In January 84, they opened a computer lab in one corner of the lowest level—much of the programming I did over my last five semesters happened there. Transy’s visitation policy in the 80s was maybe a little liberal for its day—curfew was 11pm during the week, 2am on the weekends—so I was upstairs in Forrer from time to time. All those spots, from so long ago, but yet…  For a short while that evening, it felt like I could have been a 20-year-old all over again.

But am I sad that Forrer is coming down? Not really. That time of my life is long gone. I didn’t live there. I’ve seen several (admittedly model) dorm rooms over the last year on college tours—the ones in Forrer are plenty dumpy now, relatively speaking. It’s fine for it to go.

Plus, the new building looks like it will be swell. It’s scheduled to open in about two years. It’s against the odds that Ben will wind up at Transy, but if he does, that’d be the fall of his sophomore year, which was the semester the Young Campus Center opened while I was there.

Well over two hundred alums, spouses, former faculty, and staff attended. I had a great time and appreciate the efforts of the organizers. It’s nice for those of us who live reasonably nearby to get opportunities like that to reconnect.

Not surprisingly, I took pictures that night.  Some of those and a few more short tales are over the flip:

Continue reading “Requiem For A Dormitory”

SotD: Quincy Jones featuring James Ingram, “Just Once”

My sister, brother-in-law, and nephew came up from Florida this past Friday morning for for a long weekend visit. Amy and Jerry were here for her 35th high school reunion; Chance took the opportunity to come and teach us how to play some of his new favorite games. Their visit was too short, but it’s always good to see them. Learning about Above and Below and Mystic Vale was way fun, too!

From what I can see on Facebook, Amy joined about two dozen of her classmates at the Florence Elks Lodge on Saturday night—that’s darn close to half of them! I think it was a pretty low-key affair, but I know Sis had a good time catching up with some folks she hadn’t seen in quite a while.

Amy reminded me that the Walton-Verona Class of ’83 chose “Just Once,” from the fall of 81, as their class song.  If memory serves, “Make the Magic Last” was the theme those juniors picked for my senior prom. I imagine this aching ballad about two people who can’t seem to get out of each other’s way was the first time many of us heard James Ingram’s voice; for what it’s worth, it’s still the one of his I like best all these years later.

Whether you could make it this time or not, may the coming five years be kind to all of you in my sister’s class!

American Top 40 PastBlast, 8/30/86: Double, “The Captain of Her Heart”

Over the summer I took my bicycle in to the place I bought it for some long-needed TLC—it’s great to be able to ride around again! The weather here on Thursday and Friday was delightful, so I used it to get to and back from school both days (it’s only about 1.5 miles each way). Since I’m not driving Ben around anymore in the mornings, I plan on doing this at least semi-regularly going forward.

Being on the bike as things at the college crank back up brings to mind a memory from my first year of grad school. Sherman Hall, my dorm, had a couple of parking lots around it for its residents to use, but they weren’t all that big, and demand outstripped supply. I don’t remember if I lost a lottery or applied for a spot too late—all I know is that I wasn’t granted one when I arrived. Instead, I got a pass to park out in the lots surrounding the Assembly Hall, close to a mile away.  At least in part to deal with this, I took my bike with me to Champaign. It was plenty inconvenient having to pedal out to the car anytime I wanted to drive around town (or travel back to Kentucky, especially as the weather turned colder), but in some respects this was actually a good thing, as it forced me to learn more about my nearer surroundings, to look for things to get involved in on campus, and, I hope, to focus on my classes.

When I reflect on the few occasions I was driving around during those early weeks in my new surroundings, Double’s semi-jazzy “The Captain of Her Heart” springs to mind. I know it came on in the car as I was trying to navigate unfamiliar radio stations and terrain. Even though it was already up to #24 by the last weekend of August (it would get to #16), it’s strictly an ‘Illinois song’ to me—I have no recollection of hearing it in my final weeks at home. I like it pretty well; maybe I’m a tiny bit disappointed this Swiss duo never hit the US charts again.

As it happens, my future wife and I were living parallel lives at that very point in time. Martha had graduated from Hanover College two years earlier with degrees in math and German, spent much of the following year studying math history in Hamburg, and then took some time back at home to figure out the next step. That turned out to be—just like me—enrolling in a graduate math program, at the University of Louisville, just across the river from her hometown. We both received master’s degrees in the spring of 88.  I kept at it, but she was done with school; that summer she began teaching at Midway College (now University), just ten or so miles away from where I would land a little over four years later. It’d be about two-and-a-half additional years beyond that until our paths finally crossed, but one could make the case that fateful moment had its beginnings in August 86.

One week after this show originally played, I went to my first University of Illinois football game. I kinda think that my parents came up to attend it with me, but I don’t know for sure now from this distance. As you can see at the top—by sheer coincidence—the opponent was Louisville. It was the beginning of the second season of the Howard Schnellenberger era at UofL; they’d lured him back to his hometown in the hopes of reviving their moribund gridiron program, as he had at the University of Miami. While he didn’t bring them a national championship, he eventually succeeded in raising their profile and began a tradition of winning that’s generally lasted to this day (they weren’t anywhere near that on the day I saw them, however; even though the Illini would limp to a 4-7 record, they still pasted the Cards 23-0).

My time in parking purgatory only lasted through the end of the first semester; I found out when I returned in January that I’d graduated from the waitlist and had gotten a spot across the street from Sherman Hall. While it wasn’t a horrendous winter, I was plenty glad to reserve bike use for more pleasurable pursuits going forward.

American Top 40 PastBlast, 8/25/73: Maureen McGovern, “The Morning After”

The Poseidon Adventure hit theaters in late 72 and did well at the box office. About two years later, its debut on network television was also a pretty big hit.  I definitely recall seeing it advertised quite a bit whenever it was about to appear on TV, and Amy and I were both really interested in watching. I can’t imagine we had that wish fulfilled when I was 10 years old, so it must be the case that my parents relented when it was rebroadcast later in the 70s (very likely after The Nancy Drew Mysteries started airing in early 77, as I feel certain I recognized Pamela Sue Martin—plus, I’m thinking I knew Roddy McDowall’s name from his voice work in an animated presentation of Kipling’s Rikki-Tikki-Tavi?—no, probably not from Planet of the Apes).

We’d seen a number of movies in theaters by this time, but they had mostly been Disney-type stuff. If this wasn’t THE first, it had to be among the very first of this kind of film I saw. It made quite an impression.  The guy dropping into the ceiling light after the boat capsized, the Christmas tree falling over when too many people try to climb it to safety, Shelley Winters’s heart attack, Stella Stevens’s fall, Ernest Borgnine’s tough-guy whining, the sense of claustrophobia, Gene Hackman leaping to turn off the erupting steam valve, the happy ending for the six survivors—there are so many scenes and feelings that leap back to mind forty years later.

I had to have heard “The Morning After” well before I was aware of its connection to the film. Like “I’m Easy” three years later, it became a hit mainly because it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.  Unlike Keith Carradine, however, Maureen McGovern took her song all the way to the top.  It’s on the way back down in this show, stopping off at #5.

I don’t think I ever saw The Poseidon Adventure all the way through a second time, but I had quite the visceral reaction to seeing the clips in the video below. Some things just do stay with you a mighty long time.


8/8/81 and 8/21/76 Charts

The 81 charts are among the cleanest-looking in my collection.

I didn’t much care for quite a few of the biggest hits that summer–“Endless Love,” “The One That You Love,” but especially “Hearts” and extra-especially “I Don’t Need You.” On the other hand, I was a fan of several songs that didn’t sniff the top 10:


“Gemini Dream” was in its third week of four at #1. Future chart-toppers included the Oak Ridge Boys (not too sure I’m proud of that one now), Foreigner, and Pat Benatar. Phil Collins got to #2, the Tubes reached #5, the Carpenters #6, and Greg Kihn #7 (that last one should have gotten higher). I love the Rosanne Cash song too.

I was getting my act together more in 76, too, except apparently I couldn’t get my numbers straight on the back side. The following week was one of those rare one-debut song shows: Red Sovine’s infamous “Teddy Bear” spent just one week on, at #40 (that show is one of the few times that Casey told a story about the first song on the show–I suspect he figured it might drop off the following week).

Here’s a bit more about my personal chart from 81. Sitting at #34 is what I suspect is close to a total obscurity now: “Mainstreet USA,” by Union.  There was one Top 40 station in Cincinnati that gave it a fair amount of airplay that summer, but it didn’t chart at all nationally.  I should have recognized the voice (that had to be why it was getting any play at all), but it didn’t register in the slightest. Many years later, I learned that Union was Randy Bachman’s followup to his work with Ironhorse. The group even included a reunion with Fred Turner. Three weeks later, this song reached #25 for me.

SotD: Of Monsters and Men, “Little Talks”

There were two other children, both girls, born on our cul-de-sac in 2000, but they came along early enough in the year so that they started school a year before Ben. That means that this very week, they’re starting their first year of college. Our families got together a couple of weeks ago for a cookout/s’mores-over-the-firepit event, before everyone got too busy with getting ready to pack, etc. (I unfortunately had been out of town and was en route home while it occurred, so I missed it.)

Over the years, it just happened that Ben became better friends with one of the two, who lived next door.  One of their points of connection was riding together in the morning to school over the past six years. The practice did evolve over time. It started with her mother and me taking turns; as they grew older and schedules got more complicated, it became a bit more off-and-on. Last fall, though, they both needed to go in for an early class, and I was taking them every day. Suddenly in November, the changes started: first Ben got his license, so he could drive the two of them, and toward the very end of the school year, she became able to go by herself. Even though transporting one or both was occasionally a bit of a hassle across the years, I immediately missed those moments as soon as they ended.

For years, I’ve not listened to that much contemporary pop music; I tend to subject Ben to my tastes from the past when we’re in the car, and he actually seems to prefer it. Our neighbors have taken a different path on this front. Every so often–it might be out shopping, or in a restaurant–a tune will start up and Ben will say, “That’s a song that played on the radio when (next-door neighbor mom) would drive me and (next-door neighbor girl) to school.”  Much of the time it’s something he pretty well detests–think “We Are Never Getting Back Together”–but not always. I believe “Little Talks” came to my attention via Pandora, and when it comes on, Ben says, “Yeah, I heard that with them, and it’s not too bad.”

So in memory of those trips to the middle and high schools with the now-young-woman formerly next-door, a toast: may you become the best nurse in Kentucky (or wherever you ultimately land).

American Top 40 PastBlast, 8/17/85: Aretha Franklin, “Freeway of Love”

In the winter of my junior year in high school, Donald Fagen’s character, in the midst of trying to get high with and seduce someone much younger, made a lament about Those Young People Today: “‘Hey Nineteen, that’s ‘Retha Franklin.’ / She don’t remember the Queen of Soul.” I kinda get where this comes from, as Franklin hadn’t hit the Top 10 in over six years by the end of 80 (and it had been more than four years without a pop Top 40 hit). On the other hand, there was a serious flaw with the timing: she’d jumped back on the scene with a juicy cameo that summer in The Blues Brothers, giving a blistering performance of “Think.” Regardless, this almost seventeen-year-old was certainly aware of Aretha, and besides, within five years, anyone born in 61 would have all the reason in the world to know about her.

“Freeway of Love” (#5, headed toward #3) wasn’t one of my particular favorites in that summer of 85, but I grant you it’s a quality jam, perfect for its time of year. It breathed new life into Franklin’s career, maybe even made her somewhat hip again. As for me, I’m pretty sure I like “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves” best among the songs on which she appeared during the last half of the 80s.

I saw Ms. Franklin in concert while I was at Illinois.  It was in the Assembly Hall, likely either in 90 or 91—I believe that Toby, Greg, and Katie also went.  I doubt I fully appreciated the opportunity, though I didn’t hesitate a bit in agreeing to go.  I believe our seats were pretty decent, fairly center-stage. My recollection is that she came across as a bit of a diva, and even if I don’t remember many particulars now, I’m quite grateful to have gone. She was just in her late 40s then, though somehow I imagined her being older; one can be pretty ignorant at ages beyond 19.