Bleed Red and Blue

    Occasionally alma mater notifies me about attending orientation sessions for prospective or incoming students. At these klatches it’s hoped alums will attend and act as gushy founts of information (the more arcane the better) regarding the school as well as be enthusiastic ambassadors. In the promotional sense, not as negotiators.

    My high point for transitioning cosseted high school graduates into women and men bearing the Arizona crest ended somewhere in the late 90s. Eighteen years after the fact represents a generational change. The place I knew has evolved into something unfamiliar.

    Had my 18-year-old self attended one of our 1977 events, how might I have evaluated descriptions of the 1959 institution? A perceptive teen, sure I could’ve extrapolated another’s undergraduate years into my present. But doesn’t the overwhelming majority of that age-set looks askance at the old, considering the “ancient” irrelevant to their then lives?

    At 18, who sees him- or herself at 36? While at 36, doesn’t 18 habitually become even more burnished?

    Yet through the 1990s I made dutiful facetime. I owed alma. Am I not obliged to her until my will is recited before survivors? (Won’t that be a jack-in-the-box!) The 2500 miles between Sonora Desert and Northeast excited me with unknowns. The sort which never would’ve infused me had I remained coddled here within the familiar region and among equally mired contemporaries.

    The adult fondly recalls the teen; the young adult never could’ve conceived of today.

    Besides, the Arizona set in 1977 still retained plenty of late 50s vestiges. Purpose remained the same, attitude and atmosphere had improved. The student body better reflected the country. Less local and more diverse. Two mutually beneficial aspects which solidified our book-learning.

    An early 80s minted alumnus can’t state that now. Time passed is nearly doubled for one. Second, tuition rises that once occurred incrementally today race full throttle.

    Pride and folly have drastically altered our campus, I believe. Across the last three decades, university chancellors have exercised complexes the Sun King or recent French presidents will recognize, appreciate, and ask, “Why didn’t I demand that!?”

    Massive projects. The kind that supposedly improve the learning experience, but ultimately leave pharaonic “I was here!” edifices.

    Before, I referred to similarities between the late 50s and 70s Arizona. A student or mentor who’d tumbled from some time warp wouldn’t have been befuddled by the newer campus. At least not to the extent of travelers who’d gotten dumped from the 30s into the 50s. Those transported Tumbleweed Tech adventurers would’ve reemerged onto a congested scene.

    In leaving these totems to, oh, I don’t know, vanity, doesn’t Arizona erase good portions of its heritage? Where’s the sense of history, of recognizing and acknowledging and promoting our past when swaths of continuity are razed, those footprints swept away or reconfigured to fit arty visions? Isn’t maintaining a line much of the hyped education thing? That we refer to our past in order to inform our future? Knowing where we’ve been so we know where we’re going.

    On the Arizona Mall, a greatly appreciated greensward stretching amid sere, there once beckoned a fountain. An Arcadian respite from arid Academe.

    The Integrated Learning Center, a below ground facility, replaced the well. Sun blesses Arizona 320 days annually. Who thought scarring the Mall with caverns a terrific idea?

    Funny, despite refreshing there so often with other idlers, I’ve forgotten who earned the lost structure’s attribution. But the well spouted and cooled, drawing likeminded kommilitones to congregate.

    I’m betting G.I. Bill scholars collected donations, established the committees which made this fountain possible. Or World War II era civilians who wanted some commemoration of those who’d served and sacrificed. While statues and obelisks are fine, aren’t these public spaces better? They unobtrusively remind us of the costs behind our comfort and ease, their payment, and by whom. It’s too bad our newer arenas fecklessly bear corporate sponsorship titles rather than honor any veterans.

    A fountain. I wonder how current students do, or whether can their successors, regard such landmarks today. Unless it’s a school outing, who reads plaques? Aren’t American history buffs on the decline?

    Nonetheless that Arizona acreage was vital to my “Arizona experience.” Aside from the obvious — classmates who became lifelong friends, instructors whose lessons maintain relevance, drunken trips to the Coast and Vegas, wild desert and mountain parties, obscene Mexican excursions — can’t obscure elements pierce us with equal depth and force?

    A lot of diversions from my Arizona days (and nights) have been reduced to long blown away dust. Mine is not an observation made by a cranky old alum grousing about “changes.” Or even grumbling about “kids today.” I’ve been fortunate, and envied, because I revisit the old glory biennially. Differences are less jarring in two-year scoops. Though some are more appalling.

    Many within my cohort reappear after double-digit absences. After such long periods one could almost regard them as adventurers. These unfortunates wind up questioning whether they’d ever roamed this acreage. The land? Yes. Inside the hulks on it? Nah.

    Getting past visible changes, one feels the student body has drifted right. Farther right than those of us standing solidly in the center ever could’ve imagined.

    Hearing “Arizona,” a natural response is Barry Goldwater. Didn’t he have a lot of simpleminded ultra-conservative appellations weighing his reputation? That Barry Goldwater would barely recognize the Anglos calling themselves “Arizonans” these days.

    Wouldn’t he have found the current state’s regulatory maze, its prohibitive and proscriptive chutes and ladders squeezing citizens’ private lives abhorrent? Wouldn’t it rankle him that Arizona, okay, the whole country, now sees 18 year olds as minors? That authority feels arbitrarily obliged to maintain parental control over them. Through Goldwater on down, the old state recognized where adults’ responsibilities resided. Not with mommy and daddy. Nor a nanny state. Within individuals themselves.

    Since then there’s been a 180° turn. The same people who reveled (and, yeah, occasionally screwed up spectacularly) have, under the guise of “protecting” their children, though in reality only extended aged-out guardianship, rescinded the limits they themselves helped expand then enjoyed during those same ages.

    If not legal, what some of us did was somewhat condoned. If not condoned, grudgingly tolerated. Tolerated with big winks. Why, many were the times Officer Lowrider let us off with the admonishment, “I’m going to give you boys a break … ”

    I’ve never been a parent, but I do know hypocrisy. Somehow I’m insulted that young adults now must engage in subterfuge for practices their elders conducted openly.

    Again, it’s to protect the young, yet their parents seem to have survived and thrived. I don’t know how that denial gets rationalized.

    Beyond the legal conflict, there’s the social immersion. It’s thinner now in Arizona. Our campus was a lively cultural stew. The 2012 version is broth. Two reasons for the diluted offering.

    First, more Arizonans are attending the state’s premiere institution of highest learning. Unlike earlier classes, and now suffering under mandated budget constraints, these incoming students are underexposed and inadequately prepared. Such scholars once instinctively pooled at the state’s inferior university two hours up Interstate 10.

    Lowering Arizona’s higher education level, regents answering to the state’s reactionary Republican government have heedlessly voted tuition increases far above inflation rates. Gyring higher as fees are for residents, costs are even more extreme for out-of-state applicants. This second bit of short-sightedness further leaches campus vitality.

    Students matriculating from the Northeast, Midwest or West Coast will commonly have thicker bases than those from America’s other regions. Why? Because those three sectors place premiums on mandatory education. Therefore, grumbling aside, our taxpayers generally support higher revenues necessary to maintain loftier standards.

    We revere education.

    Elsewhere book-learnin’ is often seen as discretionary. If the decision comes down to another six pack weekly or buying an additional rifle or shotgun against coughing up so the local school district can purchase newer textbooks or upgrade class computers, well, better bet on more suds and louder bragging about the game bagged.

    Galling fees, rip-off student housing rents, and transportation expenses along with a diminished student pool forms today’s Arizona. For all those considerations, nuisances, and burdens, perhaps prospective students from the writer’s swath of suburbia may find greater redemption in a New York state university. Perhaps public colleges in Vestal or Plattsburgh or Buffalo can scratch the itches the idea of Arizona excited.

    Of course presence in primeval Leatherstocking, or an hour south of Montreal, or being where winter summers will preclude meeting a diffuse sample of our fellow Americans.

    Speaking for myself, I went West because I recognized the primo opportunity to expand acquaintances. Getting to know more appleknocker rustics or big city neurotics seemed punishment rather than reward. This champ chose reward.

    As it is, “book learnin'” is fine. But reaching beyond one’s own community bolsters the bookish stuff. Were it not for Arizona, would I have known Hawaiians and Alaskans before their current prominence on our national stage? (Okay. Steve McGarrett was a cop show character and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon is Canadian.) Without Arizona, could I have discerned Shiites from Sunnis; differentiated between Arabs and Persians?

    Maybe George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should’ve attended Arizona. Had they stayed awake, several classes there might’ve gotten fewer thousands killed through ignorance and ego.

    Most importantly, could the kind of lasting friendships made out West have been sealed closer to home?

    Although Warren and I resided within 100 miles of each other, and Kovacs lived about 20 minutes away, we all only met past the Continental Divide. It is unlikely we ever would’ve crossed in the East. Then, our distinct associations self-filtered. Our circles had moats, their drawbridges selective. Since circles can’t comprise an individual, being strangers in Arizona opened our acceptances.

    Frankly put, there are no women like Marion east of Lordsburg, New Mexico. Right now she could shame or intimidate the toughest Overlook Club chicks from my Quarropas High Class of ’77. No shiv necessary.

    Those girls came across as ballbusters but wasn’t their veneer brittle? Often, didn’t all it take for them to dissolve into wet, loud, sobbing heaps was off-the-cuff disparagement out of some guy swinging a penis? I saw Halley’s Comet more frequently than insight from them. No doubt that explains why many married the men they did.

    Stupid girls, silly choices.

    Wasn’t the best disquisition of the West, something equal to whatever Western author the reader can conjure, spoken by Marion that time we raised desert dust, just taking potshots with her rifles at whatever moved and wasn’t federally protected? Aside from those too short intimate hours we spent together feeling absolutely indescribably right, wasn’t her soft, honest recital for those surroundings the purest sentences I wished I’d given voice?

    Marion was an Arizonan through and through. Well, an Anglo one. Her people migrated there during territorial days. They had big hands in slaughtering the native population. They also grounded the Spanish/Mexicans into near servitude. She’s one of few deeply-rooted Anglo-Arizonans I know.

    No way we’d have intertwined on this side of the Hudson.

    And then there’s Kewpie. We shared one class, a lot of movies and parties, plenty of conversation, and never enough Champagne. Those hours became 30-plus years of precious friendship. No. Trusting friendship. Kind of unequal because she’s lived a full life and has had no qualms about telling it — especially episodes I missed — while there are some things about me I’m not telling myself.

    A carryover from my own father. But I won’t say why.

    Inside classrooms themselves, can prospective candidates for Arizona degrees be taught Shakespeare, Faulkner or German by former CIA agents as some of us were by ex-members of their precursor agency, the OSS?

    If so inclined towards screenwriting, will current instructors deaden the profession’s appeal by droning on about adhering to proper scriptwriting form? Or will they spend much of the semester regaling their charges by summoning stories featuring actors the caliber of Paul Newman and Strother Martin during shooting of Cool Hand Luke, among other films?

    Are film theory courses still led by any character actors (misplaced name, familiar face) who skip theorems to dish on notables with whom they worked?

    Should reporting still remain an honorably pursued craft, will prospective binary media wretches endure his or her Ethics in Journalism lessons being shaded by a Professor Kingsfield-type? Like the one who in 1978 had his Brahmin scruples mightily tested after certain New York students kvelled when Yankee shortstop Bucky Dent’s homer crushed his beloved Olde Towne Team, the Red Sox.

    Whatever. Their methods worked. Do those people, those situations still arise at Arizona?

    That asked, maybe the pendulum swings back. Can the incoming Class of 2016 will undo the binds my generation let be imposed? Or simply dismiss them as needless shackles from guilt-induced prudence.

    The young always know the old have forgotten their own boldness. And the old, the smart ones anyway, envy that awareness.

    Despite the costs, perceived student diminution, distance, immersion into new and strange from swaddled suburbia, this Arizona could present the challenge which leads to surer realizations of ambition. Maybe its revival only awaits the right outsiders arriving. So go.

    Understand, though, weapons are now freely concealed while once easily accessed full-range gynecological services are spotty. On the upside, Democrats are fighting against college loan interest rates doubling, and younger adults may remain on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26.

    In our era of plenty for some and as little as possible for the rest, any generosity of spirit must be mined from our time’s abundant parsimony.

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