Tag Archives: Bushnell Hall

Pitt Street, Fredericksburg, Virginia, June 2017

Pitt Street in Fredricksburg is looking terrific — the area seems far more gentrified and better maintained than when I lived there during the summer of 1991, after my freshman year at Mary Washington College.

There were always a few college kids living on Pitt back in the day — either just during the summer or for the entire year, attracted by the dirt-cheap rents just north of downtown.  You sort of got what you paid for, though; back then, we thought of it as “Pits Street.”

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I had my first place (outside of my freshman dorm room) at 304 Pitt Street — that’s the little grey house on the left in the next two photos.  I sublet it from another drama student at MWC.  (He was an upperclassman who coached me a little on my acting, despite the fact that I wasn’t very good.)  Tim was a gigantic guy, and former military.  He’d been in some kind of special forces, and the other guys explained to me that he was too tough to care much about the size or quality of the accommodations.  “To Tim, a two-by-four is a bed,” one of them explained me.

So the “place” in question wasn’t fancy.  It hardly qualified as a room.  It was actually just a walk-in closet with a window; I slept on a futon because a mattress wouldn’t fit.  But the price was right — rent was just $150 a month, with utilities included.  My part-time job was right on Caroline Street.  (I played the role of “the tavern-keeper’s son” at The Rising Sun Tavern, a living-history museum.)  And right up Princess Anne Street was the comic shop I’ve written about here before — this was the place with the singularly horrid woman who visibly hated every customer who walked in.

I had sooooo little money that summer.  Meals occasionally consisted solely of those butter cookies that sold for 99-cents-a-package at the nearby Fas-Mart.  (This wasn’t an entirely unhappy circumstance — those things were so good, they were addictive.)  I spent a lot of time listening to Depeche Mode on cassette; any song from the “Some Great Reward” album will always take me back to Pitt Street.  When I started dating one of the “tavern wenches” at work, our dates always had to cost little or nothing.  And I spent a lot of time watching “Star Trek” on VHS tapes from the Fredericksburg Library.

My housemates were Mike and Paul, who were upperclassmen.  Mike was a tall, soft-spoken Fairfax native who appeared to endlessly ponder things.  Paul was a likable, irreverent metal-head who loved to make fun of me.  (Hey, I deserved it, after working hard for a year at Bushnell Hall seeking the Most Obnoxious Resident Award.)  My complete dependence on Fas-Mart was an endless source of amusement for him.  (I didn’t have a car, and the Giant Supermarket was along Route 1 on the other side of town.)  He laughed the hardest when I demonstrated my ignorance of metal.  He actually fell over once when I read his Queensryche poster and pronounced their name as “Queensearch.”

Mike and Paul had a friend named Stefan who occasionally stopped by the house.  Stefan was unique.  He always appeared confused by life, and he always arrived with news of some strange new misfortune that had befallen him.  He once showed up at our door, for example, looking like a victim of a nuclear reactor meltdown — his thick black hair had been brutally shorn away into a mottled “crew cut.”  (He’d tried to save money by giving himself a haircut, not realizing how difficult that was to do correctly.)  Later that summer he stopped by with news of a near-death experience.  (This time, he’d electrocuted himself trying to change a broken light-bulb while the lamp was still plugged in.)

There was no shortage of drug activity in that part of Fredericksburg in the early 1990’s.  Some girls up the street from where I lived grew a man-sized marijuana “tree” right in their living room.  Another guy who was well known in the neighborhood offered the dubious service of delivering acid to anyone’s door.

A Fredericksburg native on the other side of the street was known for howling at the sky from his front porch.  This was during the day; the moon had nothing to do with it.  I was told he was issuing some sort of recurring, primal challenge to some other local who had threatened him.  He was at least not acting out of paranoia … one morning his adversary indeed appeared at the edge of his yard, brandishing a baseball bat.  The Howling Man fortified his position on the porch by returning with a lengthy kitchen knife.

Nobody called the police.  The guys in my house at least had an excuse — we didn’t have a phone.  Cell phones just weren’t a thing in 1991, and we lacked either the money or the organizational skills to set up a landline (probably both).

I remember being concerned about the Howling Man after Mike told me about the extended stalemate.  (It had occurred when I was at work, pretending to be a colonist in charge of the tavern wenches.)  Our neighbor had always been nice to me.  I’d given him some milk after he asked for it one morning, and he’d given me an ostentatious bow, kneeling before me on one knee and bowing his head, like a knight would do before a king.  He had plenty of decorum, he just saved it for those who were deserving.

 

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Looking south down Princess Anne Street toward the downtown area.  The Irish Brigade used to be all the way down and at left.  (I’ve been told that various restaurants close and re-open at the address, and … that the site of Mother’s Pub was also rebranded as the “new” Irish Brigade for a while?  But by different owners?)  That’s just confusing.

Just a little farther down on Princess Anne is the historic Fredericksburg Baptist Church. My girlfriend during the summer of 1991 sang in the Maranatha choir there.

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Looking north on Princess Anne Street, toward Hardee’s, and where Fas-Mart and the comic shop used to be.

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Does anyone else remember this grey house on Pitt Street, between Princess Anne and Caroline?  (That extension with the latticed porch hadn’t been built yet in the 1990’s.)  I think the house number is 209.  It became a big party house in 1993 and 1994 … I was at a party with a bunch of New Hall people during my senior year, I think, when the cops arrived.  I remember the house emptied out in an instant.

I myself slid down the outside of the house via the gutter from the second floor.  (Seriously, people, when I went through my Spider-Man phase, I was really into climbing things.)  I did something weird to the joint in my right thumb — it didn’t hurt much, but, to this day, my thumb still makes a clicking noise whenever I bend it.

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Nothing says “gentrification” like seeing an upscale “Red Dragon Brewery” where a creepy, vacant building used to be.  Way to go, Fredericksburg.

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Heading south toward Caroline Street.

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Caroline Street.

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Looking south on Caroline from Pitt.

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Looking back up Pitt from Caroline.

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Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, June 2017 (5)

Pictured are Framar House, Jefferson Hall, Jefferson Square, Combs Hall and the Bell Tower.

*****

Framar House.

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Jefferson Hall.

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Jefferson Square, in the middle of Jefferson Hall, Bushnell Hall, Combs Hall and what is now known as “Double Drive.”  (That’s George Washington Hall and Dodd Auditorium behind it.)

We just called it “The Quad.”  When I was a freshman at Bushnell, this is where the guys would play “ultimate frisbee.”  My roommate once spearheaded a spirited petition by the freshmen to get stadium-style lighting surrounding the place.  The administration did not accede to his request.

Behind me here would be Jefferson Hall.  I went to a party once hosted by a couple of girls on the third or fourth floor there — the view of the quad under the stars that night was just unforgettably beautiful.  I don’t think I ever hung out with those girls again, or even stepped a foot inside Jefferson.  But, for some reason, that is one of my most vivid memories off my freshman year.

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Combs Hall.  This was where I took biology as a freshman.  I also have an unrelated and truly strange story about Combs that I cannot share publicly here.

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This is an admittedly poor shot of the slightly controversial Bell Tower.  (That’s Randolph Hall beyond it.)  I try not to be a cranky old man, but I do share in my alumni’s collective eye-rolling here.  It’s superfluous, it was no doubt costly, and it makes the southern juncture of Campus Walk feel crowded.

Also, as one of my old psychology professors was in the habit of observing, “What would Dr. Freud say about that?”  It looks like our geographically smaller campus is trying to compensate for something.  In my native New York, the equivalent of the Bell Tower is that guy in the hood who wears too much bling.

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Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, June 2017 (4)

Pictured is Bushnell Hall at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  I lived here during the 1990-91 school year.  It was a freshman dorm then; I don’t know if that’s still the case.

I arrived here just before my 18th birthday; this was the first place I ever lived away from home.  I have never admitted it until this moment, but I was terrified watching my mother’s car pull away after I unloaded the last of my things.  That terror lasted … two hours?  Three?  After my first dinner with the other Bushnell kids at Seacobeck Dining Hall, Mary Washington College felt goddam perfect.  I never wanted to leave.

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My dorm room was on the bottom floor, second from the right in the picture below.  It was a suite — there were two rooms connected by a small bathroom.  And there were six 18-year-old boys living there — yes, that means three to a room.  Good lord, those were close quarters.  We were awakened twice a week by the BEEP-BEEP-BEEP of the garbage truck reversing to empty a dumpster outside our window.  And this was in a room without air conditioning, in Virginia, where teenagers were experiencing college-level academic stresses for the first time.  I helpfully eased tensions in the suite by playing Depeche Mode’s “Policy of Truth” 3,043 times.  The other five guys LOVED that.

There were even good-natured jabs connected with the North and the South.  I habitually and dryly referred to one of my suitemates as “South Virginia;” he addressed me just as dryly as “Long Island Piece of Shit,” (or just “L.I.P.S.,” for short).  He also took to calling me “Urban Spillover,” an appellation he derived from one of Dr. Bowen’s “Geography of North America” classes that mentioned Long Island.  For some reason, the latter nickname absolutely felt more pejorative.

Seeing those double white doors beside my room below, and that steep hill in the following photos, will always remind me of my 18th birthday.  A group of first-floor guys and fourth-floor girls had gathered inside that door just after moving in during the August of 1990, before classes started.  A polite debate stirred there about whether opening those doors would set off the fire alarm.  (They were clearly marked “Fire Doors” by an electric sign but … the LIGHT wasn’t on in the sign.  And surely the administration wouldn’t require the guys on my floor to walk up an entire flight to the lobby just to exit the building, right?)

Without a word of warning, one of the first-floor guys spontaneously decided to test this theory by just blasting right through it.  (No, it WASN’T me.)

The fire alarm went off.  Everyone panicked.  The guys and girls all shot down the hill outside Bushnell after the guy who’d triggered the alarm, and we all ran … right off campus.  We didn’t stop running until we’d reached somewhere along William Street, I think.

But not all of us escaped without injury.  One of my roommates was a tall, burly guy from right there in Fredericksburg, and he slipped in the sand and loose gravel that characterized that hill during that long ago August.  I still remember that dull, loud, discordant thump-and-rattle as his body hit the slope, while my own lungs were pounding.  When we reached the spot along William Street where our panic finally subsided, we all turned and gaped at his wound.  One of his legs had become a sepia Monet of sand-encrusted blood.  There were still pebbles clinging there, I’m sure of it.

He took it like a trooper.  I guess … he just walked it off.  And we walked around the ENTIRE town.  We were scared to return to campus, what with images of arrest and expulsion dancing in our teenage minds.  (We all might have overreacted a little.)  So we went on a truly lengthy hot summer trek that circled all of the historic downtown area.  (I think we wound up at Carl’s Ice Cream on Princess Anne Street at some point.)

That was really when I saw the City of Fredericksburg for the first time.  I remember thinking that the South seemed like some other world — or maybe the same world, but 100 years ago.  And I don’t mean that in any negative sense.  It genuinely confused me that this town was called a “city,” but it just seemed idyllic and old fashioned and beautiful.  I’m not sure if the average Fredericksburg resident realizes this, but their city indeed makes an impression on newcomers.

Somewhere along the way, I finally let it slip that the day was my birthday; I think heat exhaustion influenced my usual reticence on the subject.  A couple of the girls stole away to a card store on Caroline Street, I think, and bought a card for me.  My new friends all signed it for me upon our eventual return to Bushnell Hall that day (which was thankfully not occasioned by even a mention of the fire doors).  I went to bed that night thinking that my new friends were a pretty decent group.

Anyway — more on my roommate’s injury … he was a bit of an eccentric guy, and one of his eccentricities was that he did not like to go to the Campus Health Center.  He cleaned his long leg scrape himself, and then … bandaged it with duct tape.  That’s right — duct tape.  He’d apparently brought some along with him as an incoming freshman, just in case of an emergency.  You can’t say it was a needless precaution — here he was, using it in lieu of bandages.

He walked around campus like that for a while.  He looked a lot he was wearing part of an extremely low-budget “Robocop” Halloween costume.  I honestly don’t know what transpired when it came time to remove the duct tape, and I’m not sure I want to.

You can’t make this stuff up.

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This the dorm’s south side.  If you face Bushnell looking north, the southern cap of the rectangular campus will be at your back.  Today, it is is one the last places of the main campus’ 234 acres that remains undeveloped.

I’m not sure if there is any connection here, but there is a large mound of dirt among the trees and ivy that was rumored to be the remains of a Civil War fortification.  It makes sense — that hill commands a view of the city; that’s why I used to go there to have my once-a-day Newport menthol cigarettes around dusk.  And in the Nineteenth Century, before William Street’s more modern buildings were erected, I’ll bet you could see Marye’s Heights and the key sections of Sunken Road where the Battle of Fredericksburg raged.

I chatted with a girl on the steps of Bushnell once who told me she’d spoken with the ghost of a Civil War soldier.  She actually carried on a brief conversation with him.  She re-enacted the exchange after a some urging from me, but I wound up giving her story little credence.  I didn’t exactly believe in ghosts, and she sounded like an actress confused about a role.  (I wasn’t sure why her Confederate soldier would speak with a British accent.)

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Mary Washington College, Fredericksburg, VA, June 2017 (2)

Pictured are Monroe Hall, Virginia Hall, Campus Walk, Lee Hall, and Trinkle Hall.

*****

The Mary Washington College Campus looked as beautiful as ever last week — it was only marred by the occasional sign bearing an embarrassing misprint.  (They perplexingly refer to the misnomer “University of Mary Washington.”)

At first I hesitated to visit the campus during my stop in Fredericksburg, Virginia on my way to Washington, D.C.  I asked my Alumbud if two men in their 40’s would look suspicious there, given the increased security on today’s college campuses.  He told me to relax — people would assume we were two fathers scouting the school for their respective offspring.  That made me feel really, really old.

 

Monroe Hall and The Fountain.  When I went to school at MWC, that fountain was occasionally doused with either detergent or dye as a prank.

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Virginia Hall.  In the early 1990’s, this was a dorm exclusively for freshmen girls; I don’t know if that’s still the case today.

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You can’t see it here, but beyond that hedge and beside Monroe is Campus Drive, curving down past the amphitheater to Sunken Road.  The long hill is still entirely wooded, and is still arguably the prettiest part of campus.

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Campus Walk and Lee Hall.

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This is cute.  I’m guessing it was a product of the recent remodeling?  But which way to Winterfell?  Metropolis?  Which way is Caprica City?  I have tickets for a Buccaneers game next week.

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Here is where the College Bookstore used to be (beside the Campus Police Station in the lower part of Lee); I’m told now that it’s in a vastly larger space upstairs.

And The Underground has returned!  It closed after my freshman year in 1990-91.  I met a lot of good friends there, and I heard my first live blues at The Underground, too, performed by Saffire, The Uppity Blues Women.  (I only just now learned that Saffire’s Ann Rabson sadly passed away in 2013.)

[Update: an alumna just told me that she can remember when The Underground was called “The Pub.”]

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Campus Walk and Trinkle Hall.  My Alumbud reminded of what seemed like a big issue back in the day — the students’ desire to have a 24-hour study hall.  They successfully petitioned the college administration for it, and at some point toward the end of my college career, Trinkle began staying open all night.  If that sounds incredibly nerdy, it was.  But it was also a pretty big quality-of-life issue for the dorms.  A lot of people needed a place to go to cram before finals, in order to keep the peace with a sleeping roommate.

The “computer pods” were also located here, downstairs, in a basementish-type space that was air-conditioned to the point where it felt freezing.  You always had to bring a jacket or sweater to do your work there.

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Looking south on Campus Walk, you can just barely make out the Bell Tower, a product of the campus remodeling.  You used to be able to see Bushnell Hall, my freshman-year dormitory.

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The bust of Dr. James L. Farmer, Jr. that the school erected opposite Trinkle Hall in 2001.  He was one of the nation’s foremost leaders in the Civil Rights movement, founding the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and organizing the “Freedom Rides” to desegregate interstate bus travel.  Dr. Farmer was my Civil Rights professor in 1992, and he was universally admired by his students.

Some weird old guy wandered into the photo here — sorry about that.

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World War I-era Mary Washington College in photos

The first group of photos here is from the “Bulletin of the State Normal School” in 1915. The last one was captioned “The Cannon Pits.”  Wikimedia Commons, from which I took all of these, often includes the original yearbook texts.

I wonder if the mounds of dirt we see as “the cannon pits” here are the same ones that still existed in the woods just south of Bushnell Hall in 1990.  I lived at Bushnell my freshman year and wandered over there a few times; it hid a nice vantage point overlooking William Street heading downtown — it was where I smoked my first cigarette.

A few of the kids said those mounds were the remains of Civil War gun emplacements; at least one reported speaking with a ghost.  The site was overgrown and entirely unrestored when I was a student.  Are these the same?

 

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This photo was taken from the 1916 “Battlefield” yearbook.  This is “the Dramatic Club,” and the caption for the photo appears to include a reference to the World War I occupation of Belgium by Germany: “Since its organization, the Dramatic Club has presented, on an average,two plays a year. The proceeds have usually been given to the Deco-rative Committee to be used in decorating the School. Last year, one-third of the proceeds was sent to the Belgians. The aim of the Club is to studyas well as present plays. We have joined the Drama League of America, from which we hope to gain beneficial results.”  

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These photos are taken from “the Bulletin” in 1917.  I get the sense my “Generation X” alumnae studied slightly different curricula.

The girls in 1917 also had a far more generous assessment of the City of Fredericksburg than the kids that I remember:  “Its climate is ideal, and we know of no city that has a more favorable health record. It is progressive in its government, and has recently adopted thecommission form of government. The city is favored with superior telegraph and telephone facilities, ample mail service, water supply,gas, electric lights, and all the usual city conveniences.”

Here’s what they had to say about their dorms: “The buildings, as the photographs show, are large, convenient, and handsome, and are equipped with all modern conveniences for the comfort of the students and the work of the school. The dormitoriesare of the Ionic and Doric types of architecture and are the shape ofthe letter H. The students and several members of the faculty livein the buildings. Every students room is well lighted and ventilated.In fact, there is no dark room in the building except a few rooms used exclusively for storage purposes.”

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Throwback Thursday: the Commodore 64

[WARNING: THIS BLOG POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR “TERMINATOR SALVATION” (2009).  (NO, SERIOUSLY.)]

Pictured below is the Commodore 64, which was the most popular brand of personal computer in the 1980’s.  My mother bought me one, and I still feel guilty about it.  Because it cost more than $600 and, frankly, I can’t remember successfully accomplishing any conceivable  purpose with it, ever.

Let me explain.  I think maybe a lot of people were in my position.  The advent of PC’s was a strange phenomenon among average American households.  Advertising promised us that computers represented “the future” or an opportunity to “discover new worlds.”

One of the greatest lessons life has taught me is that, when people employ only vague and abstract language when they speak, it usually means that they have no facts or concrete information to support their message.  And retrospect strongly suggests that at least some of those ads were simply false advertising.

Look at the one in the third picture below.  The ad ambitiously advises parents that if they want their “child” to “get into a good college,” the Commodore 64 could help them “rack up points on … the SAT test.”  And, for this actionable information, we could thank that trusted standby, “a recent study.”

Well, first of all, the copywriters for this ad sound pretty unfamiliar with “the SAT test,” because there was no “SAT test.”  It was simply the “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” or “SAT.”  If you called it “the SAT test,” that meant you were too stupid to recognize a simple redundancy, and that might actually prevent you from “getting into a good college.”

If you were wise, and did want to “rack up points” on “the SAT test,” you took the PSAT for practice.  Then you got a hold of that “Princeton Review” study guide.  Whether the “study guide” helped you to simply beat the test, or give you an unfair advantage, is a tangential issue that I won’t explore here.  I will tell you that it sure as hell boosted my score, and I was no goddam Copernicus, especially back in those days.  But never once did I hear about anyone using a home computer to boost their score.

So, in 1985 or so, this slightly befuddled junior high school student wasn’t too clear about what I was supposed to do with a computer.  I knew it was a status symbol in some circles, yet a social liability in others.  (“Nerd!”)  I knew that I should be thankful for being the recipient of such a pricey toy, and I was aware that its presence vaguely suggested that I would eventually be college bound, as my siblings had been.

Every kid back then wanted to know if computers could be used to change their grades remotely, as Matthew Broderick had done in 1983’s “War Games.”  Well, I certainly never approached the task, as we did not have a modem.  My far smarter friend on the next street, Keith Nagel, actually DID have a modem, but if he ever penetrated either the Longwood School District or the Defense Department, he never told me about it.  (Yes, kids, back then, modems, “monitors,” and “disk drives” were all things that were purchased separately — beyond that $600 you paid for the “computer,” which was housed in the bulky keyboard itself.)

I learned all of this in Mr. Anderson’s “Computer Literacy” class via the Longwood School District.  Forget website design or online marketing — when I was a kid, computers were so new that we endeavored merely to be “literate” about them.  The curriculum included helpful black and white illustrations of modems, monitors and disk drives, so that we knew the differences among them.  If you wanted to sound especially computer savvy, then you referred to a monitor as a “C.R.T.,” or “cathode ray tube.”  We were actually tested on such illustrations.

For some reason, the difference between ROM (Read Only Memory) and RAM (Random Access Memory) was considered crucial to “computer literacy.”  We also learned how to write a simple “loop” program in … Basic, I think.

True to form for teachers in the Longwood School District, Mr. Anderson was a terrific educator.  That didn’t stop various efforts by students to traumatize him and make him regret certain choices in life.

The “burnout kids” (metal-heads, in the more modern parlance) were a group I rarely mixed with, and they were a junior high subculture not known for academic excellence.  But when it came time to master the rudimentary 80’s-era text-to-speech program, they REALLY applied themselves.

Making a computer talk, and say whatever you wanted, was considered pretty cool back then. Turns out the burnouts were a hell of a lot smarter than anyone gave them credit for, because they mastered it quickly — far faster than I did.  Of course they programmed it to taunt the teacher.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING, MR. ANDERSON?!”  I can still hear that electronic voice, and then the burnouts mimicking it ad infinitum.  Mr. Anderson got pissed and had to tell them to knock it off.  It was beautiful.  It is almost EXACTLY what the HAL 9000 said to Dave Bowman on the doomed Jupiter mission, even though I’m pretty sure nobody in that class (including me) had yet seen Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.”  Maybe those burnout kids made fun of me once in a while, but the nascent subversive in me just had to admire that handiwork.

Wait … I … might have succeeded in running a really cool PC game called “Impossible Mission” on the Commodore once.  (See the second photo.)  That was until I got dust on the disk or something, and the game malfunctioned.  (All the tunnels and elevators disappeared, and my guy kept running around in this gray … space or purgatory or something.)

By the time I entered college, I had swapped out my Commodore for an “electronic typewriter.”  That, kids, was a sort of hybrid between a computer and a typewriter.  Think of the the “Terminator Salvation” character, Marcus Wright.  (Or … y’know, think about Bryce Dallas Howareyadarlin’ as Kate Connor, because that’s far more pleasant.  Just don’t think about the movie’s script.)

You could carry an electronic typewriter.  Also … it felt right.  By the time I reached 18, I already dreamed of being the next Stephen King.  And a traditional typewriter seemed somehow emblematic of that.

I even took that typewriter with me to Mary Washington College’s Bushnell Hall in the Fall of 1990.  I kinda never used it, though.  I was having far too fine a time as a first-semester college freshman to turn in any typewritten papers, if memory serves.  My class attendance rate was maybe … 80 percent?  Eighty-five percent?

I wound up on “academic probation.”  My typewriter wound up at the bottom of my closet.

Oh, well.  At least I had gotten “into a good college.”

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