Alma Mater

I’m in Pougkeepsie, for a hastily-planned trip to the alma mater, Vassar College (here’s the kind of idiot I was back then, in case anyone is curious). At the beginning of March, I literally did not know that the event I’m about to attend existed–now I’m ensconced in a teeny-tiny guest room at Alumnae House (where I am currently, if you must know, watching “Full House” reruns and eating a Nilda’s cookie).

I realize that many of you are live-in-the-moment free spirits who do things like take unplanned trips to Poughkeepsie all the time, but I’m not like that. There is a reason I chose German, after all, and it wasn’t Gottfried Keller (yawn). It was my lifetime love of plans, order, and routine. You know what the ideal sitcom would be for me? The simple misunderstanding doesn’t happen in the first place, everyone makes the obviously correct decision, and the episode is four minutes long but everyone’s happy. Literally anything else makes me nervous.

Speaking of nervous, a lot of things had to go right today–planes had to be on time, E trains had to be running regularly (ha!), Metro-North trains had to be made. And yet I had the most serendipitous trip in memory, made every connection, and found myself on the 4:14 express to Poughkeepsie (my peak ticket, btw, cost $22! Holy shit that’s expensive!).


The train to Poughkeepsie looks, feels and smells exactly like it did in 1995. Unbelievable.

By 7:00 tonight I was meeting a group of eight truly wonderful students in the Gold Parlor, one of the many sumptuous Parlors that take up the second floor of Main Building, the Second Empire-tastic edifice that was for three years my home.

I told the students that the social center of Main Dorm used to be the Smoking TV room and they were like, “Wait, SMOKING? Like, IN THE ROOM?”


The Gold Parlor–Vassar does not mess around when it comes to parlors.

The reason that I broke character significantly and became a “chill,” “spur-of-the-moment” traveller is that I owe the institution whose anniversary I’m going to celebrate a significant and lasting debt of gratitude.

That institution is The Miscellany News, or Misc. as it’s locally known, Vassar’s student newspaper, on whose staff I served with manic, wholehearted devotion from 1995-1998 (my freshman year I was, apparently, too alienated to go anywhere near it? I don’t know). My involvement with the Misc., and my friendships with other editors, was far and away the most formative experience of my college years–and not because it turned me into a serious journalist, ha ha ha ha ha.

The Misc. for me was the most seriously I have ever taken goofing off and avoiding other work–the minute I joined staff my grades (already mediocre–hey, it was the 90s!) suffered, because I spent several nights a week in the office until the wee hours, editing copy, laying out stories, coming up with headline after headline after headline (you’d think I’d be better at doing it now, but 90% of my heds–and 100% of the good ones–are written by my editor now). It was not unusual to be in that office until 2, 3, 4 in the morning, yes, working very frazzledly, but also giggling up a storm.

In addition to teaching me what rudimentary things I now know about headlines, editing and how short-form print journalism works (hooray, I know how to do something obsolete!), the Misc. also allowed me the one thing I have always wanted in the world–and, obviously, continue to want: a platform to be a sarcastic, goofy doofus.

I put in about a year of solid, dependable work as co-copy editor first (yes, I used to be a diligent copy editor, like a DILIGENT one–what in the everloving flip happened?), but then after I got to know everyone else on “Ed Board” (the Editorial Board, whose weekly meetings were also the site of both serious issue-talks and raucous fun), I was given the chance to write a column on whatever I wanted. That column continued the following year, when I became Features Editor (with my soul mate Justin, who is now an editor at US Weekly!), and by the time I was a senior, my sarcasm bona fides were acceptable enough to my compatriots that I was granted the coveted spot of Back Page Editor.

The Back Page contained, at the time, the college calendar, and was thus the most widely-read spot in the paper, because it was–again, at the time–the only place to get information about what was actually happening on campus the following week. So, because everyone had no choice but to read it, the Editor of the Back Page had no choice but to treat every event as a punch line, and none more than Vassar’s century-old daily tradition, 4:00 Tea in the Rose Parlor. The crafting of a Tea Thing was a serious undertaking indeed, and one I learned at the feet of two successive Jons, Kang and Swerdloff.

Fast forward to 2012, all those shenanigans long-forgotten, and I am living in Columbus, Ohio, attempting to be a Serious Intellectual amidst various minor and major ailments. I am no longer fun. I am barely funny, betwixt bouts of total existential collapse. I am, in so many senses of the word, barely hanging on. And then a Facebook thread begins, alerting me to the fact that every Misc. from back in my day has now been scanned and archived online (yes, back in our day it was just beginning to transition to an online publication, and everyone on campus read the print edition).

I get sucked into a three-day vortex of reading old issues, laughing until I cry at articles by my old friends, marveling at names I haven’t seen in years and the issues they wrote about with such passion. And the old back pages. I read the greatest hits of both the Jons, and then I read my own. I read every single one of them, and it throws me into a spiraling existential crisis. I used to be so funny, I think. I used to be fun. I used to have such an unstoppable passion for goofing off and making fun of things and just being ridiculous. What happened to me? I’m a 35-year-old in a profession where goofing off and making fun of things is severely frowned upon–where having a personality, writing what’s on your mind, being anything other than the cookie-cutter pedant, is severely, severely frowned upon. WHAT. HAPPENED. TO. ME?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was during that weird lost Misc. weekend that a seismic shift began to take place deep within my deepest invisible guts. I looked at myself and I thought: What would 20-year-old me think of now-me? She would not recognize me as the same person. I thought: I need to do something with my life that better reflects, for lack of a less-cheesy term, my dreams. MY DREAAAAAAAAAAMZ, ALL RIGHT?

So, that’s what brings me here. And I’m exhausted. And I have no good way to end this post. So, in the spirit of true Misc.-ness, I’ll end it with an inside joke, just for Justin: That’s Entertainment!


12 thoughts on “Alma Mater

  1. Seriously, can you believe the Metro North prices? I had to go up to Sarah Lawrence & back from the city a couple days last summer and nearly broke the bank. Late 90s, I miss you.


  2. For whatever it’s worth, your telling me that my application letter to be your successor as Misc. copy editor was “Barry-esque” (bolstered by my assumption that you meant my idol, Dave Barry, and not some other Barry) has stuck with me for these ~18 years. I even told Dave Barry about it when I met him at a book signing. But really, any compliment you ever paid me was equally exciting because you were THE SHIT as far as I was concerned. Still are.


  3. Had a very, very similar mid-30s crisis this past week, though the cliche I came up with was “being true to myself” haha. Here’s to following dreamz! Now to google “late 90s issues of the Misc.”


    • DREAAAAAAAAAAAAAMZ!!!! I mean, I don’t want to revert back to 21-year-old me (shudder), but I want to be a person she would have been excited to grow up into. AND NOW I AM! Ta-da! Sure, I don’t have any money, but hey.


  4. A few years ago, I used to date this Chinese woman, who had a 17-year-old son who was then applying to colleges. I strongly recommended that he should apply to Vassar, because – according to Vassar’s website – Vassar teaches leadership to its students. Also, I kept explaining to him that, in addition to learning leadership, his dating options would be vastly better than at, say, Johns Hopkins. (He was a skinny little 5 ft. 6 fella with uncertain social skills.)

    To me, it was a no-brainer.

    Don’t know why, but he didn’t listen to me.


  5. I am chuckling because though I did not go to Vassar, I was a House Advisor for Cushing and Noyes houses for two years and these pictures bring back lovely (and odd) memories of living in Poughkeepsie ten years ago. My keepsake–the 845 area code on my cellphone.


  6. You don’t like Der grüne Heinrich?? That is so strange! I almost regretted not becoming a Germanist after I read Der grüne Heinrich. I’m now thinking I was very lucky to have stayed out of Germanic Studies, though.


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