1966 Daisy Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
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 majorLiberal Artsis 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 studentsso
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 schoolsClerestory
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!
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 bastardthe
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 fewthe
proudwho 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 symbolfor 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 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 differentyet even more potentwork
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 loveall those precious poems and painting
and sculptures and melodiesthey 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 livesthat
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 benefitsa 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 youthose two obedient columns of As
(honors English and Biology as well, how utterly impressive!) marching
right down the sheetthe 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 yourselfwith
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.