I was having a bad day. I had gotten behind Ma and Pa Kettle on the road down the mountain, and by the time I was able to pass them I was almost to Boulder. I blew past them, then blew my nose. I'd been fighting the Sinus Infection from Hell for a week. We were in the middle of round six and it was ahead on points.
The visitors' lots were full, so I parked my aging F-150 in a faculty lot. I ejected my Creedence tape, placed my "U.S. Government- Official Business" sign above the dash, and set out for the math building. I no longer worked for the government, but I'd paid enough taxes during my legal career to consider myself an honorary employee.
I had spent seven years at the university, but that was long ago and I'd taken great pains to avoid math classes. Now I was a private eye in search of a math professor. Unable to find anything resembling a campus map, I finally asked for directions. The first kid wasn't much help. But for the safety pin fastened to his left eyebrow, he looked like a neo-Nazi skinhead. He had no idea where the math building was and his surly demeanor suggested disgust at the notion that anyone would want to find it. I shook my head and said a prayer for the gene pool.
The next man I approached was a foreigner, probably Nigerian. Skin black as coal, trace of a British accent. He was polite and possessed a wonderful smile, but sent me on a trek that took me past the old field house-where I'd spent many an afternoon running sprints-and ended up at the alumni relations office. I could've sought directions there, but I hadn't contributed to my alma mater since changing occupations and I feared some eager assistant might strike up a conversation that would end with a plea for my time and/or money.
The third time was a charm. She was a studious-looking young woman with dark eyes who stared at her feet and talked to herself as she walked. She wore black jeans, a black vest over a gray T-shirt, and black shoes with crepe soles. Her hair was long, dark, and in need of conditioner. The lost daughter of Morticia Addams. She said she was a math major and gave me detailed directions.
It was the first Monday in May. Seventy-six degrees and not a cloud in the sky. Frisbees flew, stereos blasted, and leggy coeds abounded. I recalled the night Scott McCutcheon and I had sculpted a giant snow penis in front of the administration building.
Probably not the first college freshmen to engage in such foolery, but a fond memory nonetheless. It seemed like just yesterday, but more than twenty years had passed. Time passes more quickly as you age, but that's one of the disadvantages of growing up.
The math building, a three-story fortress, was right where dark eyes had said it would be. Not far from where I'd parked. I had expected it to be named the Chester Q. Hollingsworth Hall of Mathematics or some such thing, but the sign above the entrance read simply, mathematics building. It was a newer structure, but the design was consistent with that of most others on campus.
Exterior walls consisting of long slabs of rough-cut Colorado sandstone, all capped with a red tile roof. This warm architectural style dominated the campus and created an atmosphere reminiscent of a rural Italian village.
I entered unafraid. I was forty-four years old and nobody was going to ask me to bisect an angle or test my ability to solve a quadratic equation. That's one of the advantages of growing up. There aren't many, so I savored it.
The inside was about what you'd expect. The walls were covered with announcements and advertisements of every sort-typing services, bands in town, something about the Gay and Lesbian Student Alliance, a sign touting an upcoming lecture by a visiting professor, and so forth. One bulletin board was devoted exclusively to graduate programs at other universities. It was plastered with glossy posters and brochures. A young man wearing a pocket protector and carrying a beat-up briefcase studied them with interest. Probably the next Unabomber.
Copyright © 2004 by Mark Cohen
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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