Monday, November 20, 2017

Who Cares How the Cookie Crumbles?

It's easy, when living in one's own head space, to assume that one is perfectly normal. A simplistic statement and (perhaps) a simplistic state. But, on occasion, one can be presented with a situation in which everyone else feels one way and he or she does not. 

For instance, I am not much good at nostalgia, especially in that I don't seem to care in the least about institutions or organizations of which I have been a part. 

My old high school? No interest since the day of graduation. My old colleges? Same thing. Sure, I remember some events fondly and memories of doing things with friends can still make me smile, but the schools were just a backdrop, to me. Somehow, that tether that holds many never attached to me. 

Not me. 
Just yesterday, a friend posted, on Facebook, that "The Great American Cookie Company" closed its stores. I worked there for a few years before graduate school. I had great friends there (many of whom I remain friends with) and we had a lot of fun. My romance with my wife, Karen, even blossomed there. Yet, I simply do not care that it closed. To me, the business had as little to do with the relationships I developed than the clouds have to do with a 747 pilot's lunch conversation. Sure, he is up in the sky, and wouldn't have been if that situation if not for the sky's existence, but the sky doesn't get credit for his conversational topic. 

It's not "Penn State" that I miss when I think of keg parties by firelight in the woods, late night talks, Saturday morning touch football games, Denny's breakfasts at four in the morning, romantic scenarios, four-hour composition sessions on the Baldwin grand piano in the empty science building theater or watching "Alf" on Wednesday nights with everyone on my dormitory floor (in some ways, the most important event of the week) crammed into one tiny dorm room... It's not Penn State, the school, I think of. It's the people. It's the life lessons learned and the impressions made. I don't feel as if I owe Penn State for that or that Penn State was, as a school institution, even any part of all that. 

My time in grad school wasn't about Rutgers -- it was about my friends; it was about in-class epiphanies; it was about evenings researching Coleridge in my room; it was about immersion in music and literature. Sure, Rutgers (and Penn State) provided the classes and the great professors (at great cost -- let's not forget, I paid handsomely for school either in dollars or in work)...but, it's the experiences I love, not the buildings or the billing office or the board... 

Maybe I feel that individualism that is so important to me; maybe I don't want a corporate or educational structure to claim any credit for my personal experiences. Either way, affection for a company or a school does not compute. If I met you  there, I might be your friend forever, but, if my respective schools close their doors tomorrow, I might say, "How about that?" and finish my bagel. That will be the most thought I give it. 

We had good times at The Cookie Company. It was also an unfulfilling, messy, and often undignified low-paying job. Why would I care that is closed? The closing of the company in no way closes the curtains on my memories of laughter, friendship, love and tomfoolery. I may still have some pride that I was a decorating wiz (many witnesses will, to this day, testify that I actually did a portrait of Juan Valdez in chocolate and vanilla icing on a giant chocolate chip cookie, once) but I don't owe the corporation for that. 

Does any of this make me selfish or weird? Either way, I can't pretend affection when I feel nothing. Love and loyalty, for me, for people, not for buildings and infrastructures. I don't disparage people for being different. I almost envy my friends who love Penn State enough to spend tons of money to go back for football games... Seems like fun. just ain't there, for me. That connection between the experiences, the people and the just is not there, for better or worse... 


  1. As someone who has never understood the pull that an alma mater can have for a former student, I get this. I may have attended college with thousands of other people, but many of them moved through entirely different worlds than I did.

    That said, I hear something resembling nostalgia in your music, so I'll theorize here, on the spot, that perhaps you have an outlet for dealing with the past that many other people do not—several, now that I think about it...

  2. Yeah, I guess I have to admit to some nostalgia. An interesting theory -- that having an outloet for it reduces my SNF (Standing Nostalgia Factor). I did write one song referencing my time at Penn State...with no mention of Penn State, so, on that level, I held my ground. I am glad to hear you and a few other people share my feeling of confusion over school-ties. One likes to be normal -- or at least share weirdnes with good company.