Salvaging a scrap of dignity

By the

August 30, 2001

As if it weren’t enough of a clich? for a senior returning from a year abroad to write an article about the adjustment and reacclimation that describe his every new experience, starting the whole thing with a mincing, self-conscious preface that seeks to cast a lens of irony over the rest of the article only compounds the problem. The irony created by the preface is of the poorest quality, the tool of writers who admire the subtle sophistication of Mad Magazine and choose to dine at Chili’s instead of McDonald’s because the former has “a touch of class.” But if this disorientation is the fire that tempers the returning senior’s every thought, conversation and behavior, how can he get away from it? Can he pretend it just doesn’t exist and that he’s enough of a badass to beat down the lens? Of course he can, but it will just be pretending, and whatever whimsical tale he eventually writes will be painfully and unconsciously laden with the psychological weight of a tortured and insincere mind. Well possibly, then, we can avoid some of the torment and all of the insincerity by accepting that this will be the article we all knew it was going to be from the moment the worlds of student journalism and study-abroad programs were joined in a star-studded, prime-time bacchanalia of sight, sound and special effects. (I believe it was some time in the early ‘80s.) So in an effort to avoid the lamely ironic, self conscious preface, I’ve created the consummately self-conscious, lame preface. Unless, of course, as Buddha might have told us, the ultimate expression of a willingness to destroy the self is a flawlessly self-conscious personality. “Whoa,” you’re probably politely saying as you pause for a second before saying this, the only proper garden-variety response to such garden-variety philosophical musing, “Mindfuck.” A mindfuck, indeed.

And so it has been for me that the process of returning to Georgetown has been nothing but a series of mindfucks, ranging in intensity from the mildly upsetting (Powerade’s decision to change its labels to a design that, in my humble opinion, communicates not an iota of power) to the literal (I was young; I needed the work.) But I’d be lying if i said that the University hadn’t made at least a cursory attempt to prepare me: Cut to a small cabin in coastal Maine?seagulls, evergreen trees, a smattering of fog. It’s late-summer, 2001, and, 20 years down the road, when I’m selecting which periods of my early life deserve the appellation, “Halcyon Days,” I’ll give serious consideration to the period that started about a week before and ended abruptly on this day. What could have put a stop to the coveted act of Halcyonic living? Simply put, on that day, I received a total mindfuck. It was a letter from Georgetown University that tried to communicate in the most pleasant and inoffensive terms the ins and outs of the phenomenon of disorientation and estrangement that a lot of students returning from a year abroad apparently experience. Diplomatic as they were in the way they delicately urged me to brace myself for the changes I might encounter in the coming year, the Georgetown office responsible for this missive could not conceal from this now-horrified reader the underlying message: “We know you spent the past year getting away with as much as you possibly could, and maybe it’s even in the interests of whatever backwater European university you attended to send back happy students who will tell all of their friends, family members and teachers what an ‘enlightening’ or ‘eye-opening’ experience it was. The more reprehensible of the returning crew might even claim to now be more ‘wordly’ than his peers. But the point is, you can expect all of this leniency to come to a swift and severe halt as soon as you return. We don’t really care if you make it or not. Good luck. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.”

Wow, Georgetown, pretty severe. But perhaps not severe enough. I was naive enough to stroll on campus and assume that I was owed something, that I had put in enough time at this point to be able to finally get something back (first-rate education not included). Well, what I got back was just about enough to make me fume with rage. Normally a pretty irascible person, I should put that more accurately: It made me fume with rage at a pretty constant rate starting the day I got here and sustained at full calorie production through the writing of this piece. I found a campus population that was fully 50 percent unrecognizable, a handful of friends who had made better and more interesting friends in their time away from me, the aforementioned Powerade changes, a(nother) freaking jeans store where Burrito Brothers used to be and Bo Concept, a furniture store that specializes in “european living.” Oh, and there’s an enormous hole where my buddies and I used to park the Wrangler before we threw back a couple of froth-puppies on the pitcher’s mound, now a parking lot. While I may have never actually done that, per se, one can imagine that a lot of other returning seniors might be upset about the hole-parking lot combo for similar reasons. Basically, there’s a lot to make a guy angry out there.

In conclusion, I’d like to stress to anyone else who’s thinking about getting a summer internship on the Hill that you can never really work too hard. Make friends with your fellow interns, but never let them get too close; you never know who might end up competing for votes in your district a couple of years down the road.

Oh, and you should probably do a couple of shots with Uncle Teddy.

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