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THE SPECTRAL UNIVERSITY / Tom Whalen YOU ARRIVE ON AN AUTUMN afternoon, alone, no parents around to snuffle you here or there, no brother to abide, only the autumnal air crackling around you and other students adrift and wondering why exactly they are here, what it is that makes these next years essential to them, why they couldn't just stay home where their friends are, where the parents who nurtured them are, though you've longed to escape the daUy routines of high school, the daily routine of work at your father's Esso station, the tang of battery add when your fingers touch your tongue, the black embedded in the whorls; longed as weU to escape the comic nightmare played out by you and your parents, where love and habit, indifference and hate twine about one another so tightly only a knife could unbraid them—to leave aU this behind, aU the mistakes and embarrassments of adolescence, the missed moments, missed shots and kisses, aU your chUdish fears and cruelties—to come here, then, to the University, the old campus sprawled across hüls in the shadow of the Boston Mountains, a new beginning, yes, though even this young you know your past clanks inside you Uke pots in a tinker's sack, know, too, that already it has shaped you, though not definitively, and that you cherish, sometimes too lovingly, its sores and sorrows and soUtudes. To be away, separate, distinct, to distinguish yourself in your separateness—this, in part, is why you have come. Others, perhaps, have other reasons—that is not your concern. There is, yes, a war on, and surely some of the students are here to avoid being sent to Vietnam, but 1968 is stiU two years away, Kent State and the bombing of Cambodia four. You have been told at the Orientation to look around you, to gaze for a moment at your feUow freshmen—"Look closely," the man at the front of the auditorium says (is he a Dean? the Dean of Men? but what exactly is a Dean?), "look closely, because sixty percent of your classmates won't be here when the second semester roUs around." For a moment, sitting with your required copy of CP. Snow's Two Cultures in hand, you wonder if you wUl be among the missing, but only for a moment. Already you are comfortable here, despite the abundance of red hogs with saw teeth down their spines (the school's emblem), despite the predominance of peers who have The Missouri Review · 143 no interest in learning, despite the, to you, deadly prose of Mr. Snow—you are alone, pre-registered, dorm Ufe wül be no stranger than Ufe at home, and it wUl only last a year before you move into an apartment, before you faU into sex or love, into the arms of another. What early disappointments await you! You are a reader, have always been, thanks to your mother who read you to sleep at night and in the afternoon with Uncle Remus: His Songs and Sayings, Treasure Island, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and whUe stiU in high school something (the wish to be alone? to learn?) led you on an off-season morning (a soUtary autumn between the seasons of baseball and basketbaU) to Parker's Newstand where you selected from among hundreds of possibiUties, from among hundreds of soUcitous (and salacious) covers, a paperback like, say, Pigeon Feathers whose young tousle-haired author you had seen photographs of in magazines, or the anthology The Existential Imagination wherein you encounter for the first time the likes of the Marquis de Sade, Malraux, MusU, Pavese, and Aichinger. Was it a sixth sense that led you to read these books at sixteen, seventeen? Their covers were quieter, suggesting (unlike the genre books you passed over) there was more to them than met the eye (little knowing that the same could be said of the others, Uttle knowing you were letting sUp by the novels of PhiUp K. Dick, of David Goodis and Jim Thompson). You are, as said, a reader, or, better, a reader in training, unlike most of your classmen, and...


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