Dateline – Menlo Park, California
Today was a relatively easy driving day. I came down the Sacramento river valley, and made a brief detour into Sacramento proper where I drove past the condo and the house that Steve and I had lived in during our years there. I’ve been gone long enough (nearly twenty years now) that the city now feels alien and I don’t recognize most landmarks instinctively the way I once did. There was barely a twinge of nostalgia at seeing the old house (which I still miss in some ways having been uprooted from it before I was ready) but I miss it from an interior feel, the exterior means nothing. And someone has painted it a rather hideous shade of olive green.
Then it was on to the SF Bay area. I could have done without the hour and a half traffic delay on I-80 between Vacaville and Fairfield but other than that the drive was uneventful and I arrived at my old friend Vickie Rozell‘s house. Vickie and I went to Stanford together back in the day and she now lives between campus and the great wall of Facebook headquarters so we went for a nice walk on campus. The weather was lovely and I was reminded of what a golden time undergrad years were, both in terms of the experience, but also the climate. People were working in the drama department scene shop so we were able to go in and walk the stage of Memorial Auditorium, site of many of my early theatrical experiences. This was followed by a walk through central Palo Alto, where many of the buildings are the same, but the tenants are not, capped by floofy cocktails and dinner at a Burmese restaurant (think Thai/Szechuan/Indian fusion).
Today’s story involves Vickie and my undergraduate roommate Craig Mollerstuen. The three of us became fast friends my sophomore year. It was the same year that Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along crashed and burned on Broadway and we always thought that the trio ‘Old Friends’ was very much our song. Vickie was a couple of years ahead of us and had graduated but, like most Stanford graduates, was loathe to leave the mother ship. She did eventually get a job working for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland and was up there for the season. The problem was, the season ended in October and didn’t begin again until February and without income, she couldn’t pay rent during that period.
Craig and I, our senior year, had enough stage carpentry experience that we decided to build a loft for our dorm room. Stanford’s dorms at that point dated mainly from the 40s and 50s and you more or less had a twelve by twelve cube to work with. Another dorm on campus, Toyon, had solved the lack of floor space problems for years with a loft system that was handed down from year to year and we thought we could replicate something like that in our dorm, Florence Moore Hall, or Flo Mo, on the other side of campus. We constructed quite the serviceable loft with two elevated beds at seven feet off the floor and a built in carpet covered couch/cot lower down.
Our dorm that year was a co-ed four year dorm of three floors with about 70 kids and 3 resident assistants. I don’t know what barrel the RAs were scraped out of that year, but we had three of the more clueless and unhelpful ones on campus (I don’t remember any of their names). Because of this, the freshmen were kind of at sea and our room soon became the center of social life on our floor with late night trivial pursuit and the freshmen feeling like they had seniors whom they could talk to.
We knew about Vickie’s essential homelessness from November to February and hit upon a bright idea. She could come spend the time on campus and direct a musical revue and she could stay in our dorm room. And so she moved in, sleeping on the built in couch. We got her an extra key from somewhere and she just became part of dorm life. Most of the girls, who saw her in the bathroom in the morning, thought she was someone who lived at the other end of the hall whom they hadn’t gotten to know yet and the clueless RAs, so wrapped up in themselves, never noticed that the population of the dorm increased by one for three months. (She did go home to her parents over the Christmas break).
When it was time for her to go back to Ashland, Vickie gave me a stuffed vulture. She says that the first thing she would see in the morning was me peering over the edge of my loft bed, looking down as to where I could jump down without landing on her. I still have it.