As a future math/CS double major, it was clear to sign up for calculus and the intro programming course (which used FORTRAN). I loved science, too, so chemistry wound up on my dance card. Filling things out was the composition class that TU wouldn’t deign to call a composition class—it was “Freshman Studies,” and the theme was Images of Man. Except for the chemistry lab on Tuesday afternoons, it was an all-MWF schedule.
The chemistry class was the largest I had at Transy by far, with an enrollment of maybe 80, and was held in Brown Science Center’s one auditorium—then as now, a high percentage of incoming students were shooting for medical school. It was an exam-heavy course—seven during the semester, every other Friday, plus the final. Maybe it was a weed-out course? The professor, a nice guy once you got to know him, didn’t suffer what he considered foolish questions during class time. I sat about halfway up the room and watched others take the fire.
Calculus wound up my favorite that semester; Dr. Shannon became my mentor, even if he wasn’t my official advisor. It was very hard to score 90% on one of his exams. I am still in awe of a question that stumped me on the first test—tractable if you looked at it the right way, but perfectly foreshadowing upcoming material. I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to accomplish that on anything I’ve given.
Outside of these, it was plenty of writing that fall: code for the CS class, essays on Huxley’s Brave New World, Plato’s Republic, Shaw’s Major Barbara, among others in Images of Man, and a few articles for the campus newspaper, The Rambler. My first by-line appeared in the 10/11/82 issue:
I still have the notes from an interview conducted the previous week with a professor who had presented in the series. (Trivia alert: Liz Smith, the student quoted, is the daughter of the best man at my parents’ wedding.) There are at least two other Rambler articles from that fall with my name attached; I continued to write for it well into my junior year.
My section of Images of Man met at 11:30, so many of us in the class would dodge traffic crossing North Broadway afterward to eat together in the cafeteria—that’s where I formed some of my first solid college-era friendships. James, then my next-door neighbor but soon to be my roomie, was among those; he was wickedly funny, often holding court from the start.
The lunch table was, of course, one of the places where we would opine on the hits of the day. Topics included Billy Joel’s then brand-spanking-new The Nylon Curtain, the lyrics to the Who’s “Athena,” and a song that was almost universally lacking in support, “Mickey,” by choreographer/actress Toni Basil. An unlikely #1 song to begin with—Basil was twenty years older than my fellow freshfolk and I, and this was her first hit—I think we were generally put off by the cheerleader-y cold intro. I didn’t know for years, maybe decades, that it was a Chinnichap tune, nor that the title had undergone a shift in gender (originally “Kitty,” by UK new-wavers Racey—thanks, Music in the Key of E). My opinion on it has softened as time has passed, mostly due to the new-wave influences that I more clearly hear and appreciate now.
“Mickey” was #30 on this show. Its first five weeks on AT40 went 39-38-34-30-27, hardly portentous. On 11/13, though, it jumped fourteen spots, and its race to the top was on.