Monday, April 27, 2009

New London Nostalgia

I did not put a lot of thought into where I wanted to go to college.

By the time junior year of high school rolled around and most of my friends and classmates were obsessed with what was going to happen post-graduation for good or for ill, I chose to throw myself into other things. I had wrestling, I had theater, I had the newspaper--I had plenty of excuses to give my parents as to why I didn't want to talk about college at that moment in time.

Truth is, I honestly did have a short term view of life (I still do in many ways) and thought the stuff on my plate then and there was what mattered, but there was definitely also an aspect of me that was scared to admit change was coming. For all the bitching I did (and do) about growing up in what I considered a sheltered suburb where I didn't quite fit in, the same things that bugged me about Newton also made it very safe and tough to think about leaving.

So yeah, my college search was one of minimal effort. I didn't apply anywhere for early decision, which was unheard of at Newton South. Of the places I did apply, I picked them pretty randomly and then only visited a handful. I visited Syracuse and it was too far away. I visited Boston University and it was too much in the middle of a city. I visited Connecticut College...and it felt like a good enough fit. Honestly, I liked it enough that I figured it would do and get my parents off my back (and good lord were they saintly for putting up with what a tool I was about college). Given the requirements for the school and how few students they accepted, the safe money was that I wouldn't get in anyhow and would just end up at UMass, which suited me fine.

Naturally I got in. And I was thrilled!

If I had it all to do over again, would I do anything differently? Tough to say. On the one hand, I'm exactly where I want to be professionally at this point in my life and have been since I left college, so I guess my choice of school worked out fine. On the other, I don't feel like I got much out of going to Conn from an educational standpoint and feel like I could have gotten the jobs I've held so far regardless of where I went to school, so it didn't really add much to my life as far as that goes and it wasn't cheap.

Conn is a liberal arts school with a lot of great programs, but none that really did much for me. They had a great theater department, but I was done with theater on a serious level by sophomore year. And in regards to the English, my major, to put it nicely, the folks in that department drove me nuts. It was a program dominated by stuff like women's literature and poetry, none of which I had any interest in. I wanted to study journalism and there weren't even any journalism classes, let alone a major. In fairness, this is something I should have figured out myself before I ever set foot on the campus as a student, or at the least by the middle of freshman year; from a purely academic standpoint, I should never have gone to Conn or should have transferred early on. I had a few cool professors, but for the most part I found the English department to be stuffy and discouraging.

However, I stuck it out because while I couldn't give a shit about my classes, Conn was great for me in so many other senses. First and foremost, I made an incredible group of friends who I did some of the most creative work of my life up to that point with outside of classes, and of course I also met the love of my life, my fiancee, Megan. Additionally, I got to run a school newspaper that was at a crossroads in terms of direction and also about to go under financially due to lack of support from the school; righting that ship (or doing my best) taught me more practical lessons than any class.

So while I may not remember a single course I took or professor I had at Connecitcut College, I got a lot out of going there. Was it worth what I paid to go there? Well I think so, but I'm sure other may disagree...

One thing I did appreciate while at Conn though and actually appreciate even more now looking back is that New London, Connecticut is a pretty neat little area. As students, my friends and I gave our college's location plenty of shit for all the rundown businesses and ghetto neighborhoods me and my buddy Taylor would encounter working for Domino's, but it had a lot of character. I'm actually fortunate to still travel there pretty frequently, since Megan's parents live a couple towns over in Mystic, and as Megan was dropping me at the New London train station this past weekend to head back to NYC, I got a bit nostalgic not even so much for college (as my good friend TJ "Hey! Everybody! I've got a blog!" Dietsch says he gets every spring), but for the quirky little town I called home for four years. Here are a few spots around New London that have a special place in my heart of hearts...

Connecticut College
Yeah, I know, I just prattled on about this place for a couple paragraphs, but what I didn't talk about was the campus itself, which was and remains absolutely gorgeous. Whatever other complaints I may have about Conn, I'll never bitch about it not being a beautiful spot to make your residence. Very few Conn students live off campus, even during their senior year, and the reason why is that it's an aesthetically pleasing, well-maintained place that provides just about everything you could need within walking distance and easy access to the other stuff if you've got a car. There's no shortage of incredible greens where you can toss a frisbee or throw a barbeque (and the student body was on the whole generally pretty good-looking, so you really felt like you were living the college life you saw on TV--I'm not sure if they screened for looks when admitting, but there could be a lawsuit there for somebody), there's a state of the art health center (that I never used save for getting drunk and playing intramural volleyball) and countless perfect spots both indoors and outdoors where you can get lost (and get left the hell alone) if you want to spend a quiet afternoon reading, writing or whatever. Seriously, if you already have the skills to make it in a profession that just requires a diploma and don't give a shit where you get it from, you could do a lot worse than four years of chilling at Conn (nice dorm rooms on the whole as well).

Hygienic Art Gallery
My freshman year, I signed up for the newspaper (part because, like I said, journalism, but part because the A&E editor was totally flirting with any freshman guy she saw at the activity fair in hopes of bolstering the paper's staff, a fact she later confirmed for me when I was a year or so in), and very early on got assigned to write about a local art gallery. I hitched a cab downtown into New London and scoped out a neat little building called the Hygienic, within which I got to see some truly unique and incredible works of art. The Hygienic used to be a diner before becoming an art gallery, and one of the groovy eccentricities of the gallery was that they kept the stools and the bar as well as other little touches out front. In addition to putting on exhibitions at the gallery, the artists of Hygienic were also responsible in part for painting various walls around New London with giant murals (with stuff like giant whales and whatnot). I didn't actually go to the Hygienic more than three or four times during the entirety of my stint at Conn, but it's a perfect example of the type of offbeat culture hubs you could find in New London. Also, I fondly remember my mother (an artist herself of no small skill who frustratingly has nothing online at the moment I can link to) visiting me and me taking her down to the Hygienic to show off "my" gallery, a proud moment for me.

Harkness Beach/Rocky Neck Beach
For whatever reason, it wasn't until junior/senior year that my friends and I fully came to appreciate that we had several awesome beaches within a short commute of where we went to school. I'm not talking about "Baywatch" beaches where people were running around playing volleyball and doing CPR, but rather state park type dealies where you could have a nice picnic or sit on the rocks and watch the ocean. We did a lot of the former at Harkness Beach, which was nestled nicely far away from the highway, but close enough to some small convenience stores that we could stock up on burgers, hot dogs and beers. It was also a great place to takes pictures, like this guy did and like I did. On the flipside, Rocky Neck was a place we used to hit up early on as a group (there was a kooky haunted mansion that we liked to tool around), but my senior year, it was a favorite spot of mine to drive to in between classes with a bundle of comics and climb the rocks until I got nice a comfortable (I distinctly remember reading Millennium there for some reason).

Sarge's Comics
No question, if it weren't for this place, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today. Walking around New London on one of our first days at Conn, me and my new buddies discovered the biggest, best comic book store any of us had ever seen and immediately bonded over a shared and dormant love of the X-Men and their ilk; it was seriously a defining moment for me both personally and professionally. Sarge's formed an immediate bond between me and some of the guys who would come to be among my closest friends and also reintroduced me to the hobby that would become my livelihood. The sheer size and volume wasn't what made Sarge's special (though it was damn impressive; they had everything), again, it was the personality. The folks who worked there were characters (I did an assignment for an English class where I interviewed a couple of them once; one was a real-life RPG dude like in Role Models and another girl had lived out in L.A. during part of her life dating a guy who produced porn comics and hanging out with the likes of Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson). The customers were characters. The owner's cat roamed free around the store and you often had to move her off the longboxes to get at the back issues you wanted. There was always some weird anime playing in a TV off in the corner. It had that small town feel that made you feel at home while also acting as your gateway to the fantastic. It was the first time in my life I truly learned to love Wednesdays.

Crystal Mall, Captain's Pizza, The El N Gee...I could go on. New London is definitely a "don't know what you got til it's gone" type place for me. I'd never want to live there, but it's a nice place to visit (and it was a nice place to be for a time).

No comments: