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© Copyright 2014 John Paul Tancredi - JPT@NorthCampusDays.com

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© Copyright 2014 John Paul Tancredi - JPT@NorthCampusDays.com

North Campus Days

by John Paul Tancredi

North Campus Days

by John Paul Tancredi

North Campus Days

by John Paul Tancredi

Excerpt: Chapter 1 – Summer 1983

As my father drove down Sunset Boulevard, effortlessly passing through the town where I grew up, I looked out from the passenger's seat and saw my grammar school in the distance. Next came the big Catholic church, all brick and stained glass. I saw the drugstore where I used to buy baseball cards, the park where I played Little League, the movie theater turned hardware store, the fire station, the market. As the town disappeared from view, my thoughts turned to the future. I was eighteen years old. Ten minutes later, we turned off Sunset onto a narrow street. A sign, in plain letters, read "Welcome To UCLA." My dad pulled to a stop in front of a tall building. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. The unknown was right outside the door. I walked into Hedrick Hall, one of the school's high-rise dormitories. I was early. As I waited near the doorway of the main entrance, I saw a cute girl across the way, obviously waiting for the same thing. We made eye contact, sort of smiled at each other, but nothing more. She eventually walked away. I wandered through the lobby to check out the rest of the scene. I felt like I was loitering, but relaxed when I noticed several other confused faces staring back at me. I guess there was no reason to be nervous. We were all in this together; this was our home for the next three days. The first evening of freshman orientation was optional, the only benefit being able to take one of the two required placement exams a day early. I checked in and took the elevator to my room on the top floor. It was cell-like. I couldn't wait to escape downstairs for my English Placement Exam, which was supposed to last two hours. Unfortunately, the test was easy and I was back in my box within an hour. I reviewed my orientation materials to kill some time. Around ten o'clock, I sat on my bed, unable to sleep, my roommate not scheduled to arrive until the next morning. I looked out at the steady warm rain and heard music from across the compound. Someone was having fun. The next morning, our group met for the opening session. After spending the previous four years in an all-boys Catholic high school, I was in awe of the women. Following the big meeting, we were divided into smaller adviser sections. My adviser was a fifth-year senior who didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. We discussed our futures, our hopes, our fears. I didn't have much to say myself. Everyone else sounded so cool, so together, so mature for their age. During the long discussion, one girl minimized high school friendships, saying we would make our real friends now. I dismissed her statement as rubbish out of respect for my high school buddies, many of whom I'd probably never see again. The girl who made this insightful comment was sitting in front of me. Her name was Wendy. I didn't think much of Wendy at first, but became curious once she turned around. She was the kind of girl you would see at the beach on a hot summer day – sandy blonde hair, nice legs, the whole nine yards. We started talking during one of our breaks and she seemed outgoing and pleasant. She lived in Westlake Village, an affluent Southern California suburb. I figured her parents had some dough, but wasn't concerned with any of that stuff. I was more interested in her blue eyes and pretty smile. As the day progressed, Wendy and I started to hang out together. It was fun having one person to pal around with, but everyone was cool. For some reason, I expected them to be jerks. I was pleasantly surprised. In the evening, we reconvened as a large group to discuss degree requirements and other academic matters. Although the intent was to make our transition easier, none of it made much sense on its own. I had a feeling we wouldn't get a real taste of university life until classes started in October. When we were finally dismissed, Wendy and I returned to our floor and ended up talking by the pay phone. It was as if there was no one else in the world. I had no idea I would be smitten with someone so soon. She said her roommate didn't show up that first night either. Talk about lost opportunities. After saying goodnight to Wendy, I finally met my roommate. He was a tall, friendly Israeli gentleman. That night, however, he talked in his sleep like an Israeli commando. I was frightened. To distract myself from his unintentional verbal assault, I thought of the next day with Wendy. Eventually, the good thoughts prevailed and I fell asleep. The schedule for the second day included the campus tour and registering for fall classes. As we left Hedrick Hall to visit our future home, I made sure Wendy was by my side. The tour was extensive and intimidating. No matter where we went, I didn't know where I was in relation to anywhere else. The big, faceless institution was living up to its advanced billing. During our visit, we stopped by the administration building to pay our tuition and apply for financial aid. Because Wendy and I didn't qualify for any assistance, we waited for the others outside. As we sat on the steps, Wendy leaned back against one of the pillars, her shapely tan legs stretched out in front of me. The August sun broke through the clouds. I didn't have a care in the world. Wendy and I decided to have dinner together later that evening. Actually, the entire group was meeting at The Cooperage – the campus pizza parlor – for a night of food and entertainment in our honor. From what we were told, "The Coop" was a pub-like facility without a pub since alcohol was prohibited on campus. As soon as Wendy and I left the dorms for dinner, it began to rain again, this time torrentially. Without an umbrella, we became drenched and I noticed Wendy was even more attractive in a wet halter-top. We finally arrived at The Coop, but were turned away because we were dripping wet. We were allowed in the back door, but didn't have much fun because of our dampness. Afterwards, under clearing skies, Wendy and I walked back to Hedrick. In need of a hot shower and change of clothes, we agreed to hook up later for our last night of fun. Around nine o'clock, we congregated in the dorm's study lounge to register for classes. With Wendy spending most of the evening with a few of her girlfriends, I decided to branch out and meet some other people. I didn't mind being separated from her; I felt like we were already friends. Class selection itself was an archaic process that took up most of the night. We spent several hours trying to pick the right courses, but many of us were clueless. Based on my adviser's advice, I chose a math class (Calculus 1), an English class (Humanities 2A, whatever the hell that was), and an introductory sociology class. I picked sociology after overhearing that Wendy had already signed up for it. It was a combination of coincidence and espionage on my part, but at least I was assured of seeing her in the fall. The evening was memorable in many ways. At one point, Wendy leaned back too far in her chair and toppled out of it. I led the applause from across the room. She looked over in mock anger, put her hands on her hips and said, "Just you wait, John." I was ready to wait forever. We were on the verge of something new and it all felt so comfortable. I lived on vending machine junk food and Mr. Pibb and didn't go back to my room until 3:00 a.m. With the caffeine buzz, I could have easily stayed up around the clock. And, to think, this was only the beginning. I was in college now. A few hours later, while waiting for our parents to pick us up, Wendy and I exchanged phone numbers before saying goodbye. I couldn't wait to see her again. Unfortunately, classes wouldn't begin for six weeks. I knew things wouldn't be the same then, but I assumed we would still be friends. At least that was the plan.