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Welcome to Clerestory

Michael Cocchiarale

Angela Colombo
1966 Daisy Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109

Dear Angela:

Congratulations! You have been accepted into the College of Arts and Sciences at Clerestory University. Go ahead: be tickled to death about the accomplishment, even if your choice of major–Liberal Arts–is a bit suspect. Having had the grades to get into this place, you must have brains enough to realize that such a decision condemns you to a lifetime of occupational futility and intensely alcoholic personal frustration. But hell, who am I to put a damper on what is supposed to be the happiest day of your heretofore uneventful life? You're young. You're no doubt beautiful. Why worry when the world is busy scrambling to adjust itself to the dazzling and unprecedented fact of "you"?

Clerestory is steeped in tradition. Packed inside the quaint tea bag of Ohio history is the unexceptional story of Clerestory, the speed bump of a town known initially as Egbert (can you believe it?), named for the first long-faced, bath deprived pioneer who hewed down half a dozen trees in order to build his lavish lean to. In the early 1840s, Georg Dunkelspeil, a defrocked priest from Bavaria, arrived to our booming metropolis via Boston, where he'd learned all about the art of stained glass making. He cleared his six trees, set up a lean to that doubled as a glassworks, and within a few years, his windows became the hottest items this side of the Alleghenies. Ten years later, when it came time for the two hundred or so townspeople to look for a new name (I want to know what the hell took them so long!), they remembered their recently departed but still favorite son Georg. Fortunately, they passed on naming the town after their famous glass man (although Dunkelspiel–"Dark Game"–has the kind of disturbing suggestiveness my literature professors trained me to appreciate) and opted for Clerestory instead, in honor of the place in the churches where all those stained glass beauties went. This university followed fast on the heels of the name change. Perhaps the metaphor of (en)light(enment) shining down through all those pretty windows was just too precious to resist.

Now Angela, just take a moment to think about it: 155 years of students, processing from these honored walls of academia, sunburned by knowledge they put to use or forgot or remembered belatedly for their three score and ten before eternal consignment to ashes. So many students–so many lives frothing with passion, so many bodies now rotting in the ground. Come September, won't you be thrilled to be included in such an august body? In your fresh spring blossom years, won't all those anonymous thousands seem like some perfectly wonderful foreground for you?

Today, we are one of the leading universities in the Midwest. In fact, the most recent U.S. News and World Report ranked us first among colleges and universities in the thin wedge of Ohio bordered by interstates 73 and 77. Sure, this category includes all of three schools–Clerestory University, Lindstrom's Business College, in the strip mall on 28 (the new one with the Mr. Hero and FastForward Video), and Colette's Beauty Academy (Six dollar cuts, no appointment, but make your peace with God)–but we're still number one. We can waggle that index finger for the TV cameras and pour a cooler of Gatorade over the head of the college president. In other words, we got it going on!

Clerestory educates the leaders of tomorrow. There are over 1500 four-year colleges and universities in the United States. Now I was an Art History major who ran screaming from any math more complicated than 2 + 2, but even I know that there's probably not enough room in the global village of ours for all of the "leaders" we're creating. Not to mention all those international leaders pouring out of universities from Buenos Aires to Beijing. What I'm saying is that, in case you hadn't noticed, it's a big fucking world. 6 billion people, for God's sake! The dull, unseasoned truth of the matter is that, for all of your talents, you're going to be one of the drones. Oh, if you work hard enough and have a sense of humor and smile at the right people, you're bound to gain possession of some illusory power. Isn't that what the term "middle management" is all about? But remember: you're a Liberal Arts major. You're too good for the crass corporate world. That was apparent as early as first grade, when grandma patted you on the head and exclaimed, my my, the girl can sure turn a phrase! When you won first prize in the art fair that splendid freshman year. So you can rhyme. So you can draw in three dimensions. You're sooooo talented. Take a number. Get in line.

We have state of the art facilities. With scads of money from this rich bastard–the owner of some major league baseball team I think (he cut an auspicious swath of Ds through here and three years later, instead of facing the ignominy of flunking the bar for the third time, his formerly dissolute but currently born again billionaire father slid him the keys to his own personal corporation)–we built our glorious state of the art business building: The Harold V. Platt Center for Professional Studies. You've just got to say that in the deep, resonant voice it deserves. Sound it out while you hunch in the dank, subterranean classrooms of the humanities building to which you will be consigned. With your burning love of the arts, you'll be one of the few–the proud–who will appreciate the sublime beauty of water dripping from ceiling to bucket. You may even grow to feel a bit superior to those other, vocational minded students, since you'll be able to interpret that dripping as a some kind of symbol–for the futility of all human endeavor, perhaps. This won't be the same as making big time money, but hey, we grab our compensations where we can.

We encourage our students to grow by studying abroad. You'll expand your horizons. You'll oohh and ahhh. And what other possible response is there to the stunning collection at the Louvre. Or to the Charles Bridge on a cool clear night, the cozy arm of a best friend wrapped around your shoulder, St. Vitus spiraling through a sky the color of passionate love. Or the Baroque splendor of the Ponte St. Angelo. What other possible response to a completely different–yet even more potent–work of art?: Italian men (Trust me, when you're nineteen, they all look like they've just stepped from their pedestals and out of their museums). I rode their musical accents like a roller coaster, until one morning I was throwing up in the Trevi Fountain, my best friend rubbing me on the back, dispensing tissue and breath mints. Angela, the problem with liberal arts is that they teach you to love, and the objects you grow to love–all those precious poems and painting and sculptures and melodies–they never ever leave you. They're always on a bookshelf, a CD rack, a museum stand, and you can read and hear and see them at your pleasure; without consequence, you can absorb their diverse beauties, and your heart can melt into this swell puddle of goo. The problem is that you start loving people like you love your art, only these same principles do not apply. You don't experience appreciation; you experience deep, eviscerating pain of rejection. Once this has happened, it's too late, because now that you've had your taste, all you want more. For the rest of your life, you crave what you once got from art with some tall, olive skinned, broad shouldered piece of flesh.

Angela, what kind of hair do you have? Is it long and flowing and split end free? When I entered college, this blond mane was my crowning glory. Three years later, it may as well have been a pretty rope around my neck.

At CU, you'll establish close personal relationships with your professors, especially if you're female, a bit older than all the giggly others, shave your legs, and wear bright, loose fitting nylon shorts on humid September days. Not like I was looking for any extra attention. I was just a sixth year senior, my degree delayed by "junior" (who's perfectly lovely, despite his fucking father's eyes) looking to finish up some time before middle age. It turned out I was miles ahead of the other kids in this history survey, raising my hand all the time because I knew what history does, what it can continue to do. One day, I blurted out, "History is the world's one great unfinished joke." After class, the professor said he just loved the "epigrammatic quality of that observation." The next thing I knew we were at The Unremitting Bean (this campus coffee shop I highly recommend), where it comes out he's a widower. Three years ago. It's not easy, but he smiles, waves it away because he's not one of those people who wallows, but it's too late because, in addition to his lame students, I have another reason to feel sorry for him. Then he's driving me home, the opposite way from where he lives–that big, empty colonial he bought thinking his wife would be around to start a family with. And sometimes, then, we're stopping for dinner, and we get to talking about the wrenches and sledgehammers of life, and he takes my hand and says he's been in love with me since that humid September day when I told the class my name, apologized for my advanced age.

Angela, FYI: woman is a verb that means "to feel sorry for, to surrender one's life to please another, with little expectation of anything in return." Trust me, this is how we'll be forever defined. At least I had sense enough to make him wear a condom, because, as beautiful as the lovemaking was, he left me three months later for a tenure track job in California. Although I haven't heard from him since, I figure he's got to be good for a recommendation somewhere down the line.

The future is Clere. Tell me, in all those Peterson catalogs, in all those brochures distributed at college fairs, have you ever come across a shitter motto? I mean, really. They seriously expect you to believe that after four years of sitting on your ass in this ivy-strewn world, your future will be clarified in that uniquely misspelled way? It's all a terrible lie . . . unless, of course, you take it to mean "clered up" in a runned down by an eighteen-wheeler kind of way. The truth is, Clerestory will suck you in as a cheery, optimistic girl and spit you out as a ruined, cynical adult, someone who will be forced to deal with the fact that all the so-called potential you have will be realized in such a mundane way that there will be nights in your mid twenties sitting in your cramped unheated apartment, cockroaches sauntering across the floor, when you'll want to just keep drinking from that big clear bottle of gin in front of you, drink to Clere things up, Clere the slate and begin again, making room for all those patronizing relatives to ooh and ahh your every pathetic move . . . or not begin again at all but stop, end, type a boldfaced period after the rambling sentence of your life so far.

Little will you know (even though I bleed this ink to tell you) that this will come to be the dark and sordid pattern of your life.

We look forward to your joining our family. I had all the benefits–a full ride and a nice handsome allowance from mom every week. I had the ability. Christ, I was a National Merit Scholar! Then that one bad choice in Rome and, pssssst, the air just went right out of me. When I returned home, bulging like my suitcases, mom and dad weren't waiting around to pump me up. Now you, sweet Angela, you're no doubt very different. You'll do us proud. You'll be the one sterling exception. You'll be the one beautiful exemplary child that makes it through the gauntlet of young adulthood unscathed. You'll be that one leader out of all history and time who changes the world once and for all.

Although I have just a transcript knowledge of you–those two obedient columns of As (honors English and Biology as well, how utterly impressive!) marching right down the sheet–the writing of this letter has filled me with an almost motherly concern. Promise you'll keep in touch? Not with a bitter old crone like me, but with yourself–with what you want out of this sordid, lovely life.


Douglas C. Powers

Director of Undergraduate Admissions


Encl.: 1 oz. common sense . . . all that I was born with, but here, knock yourself out.

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