He leads me into a small office that is tucked away in the farthest corner of the admissions office. "Take a seat," says Bertrand, my interviewer. He sits in a huge leather armchair that looks like it belongs in the drawing room at The Breakers, his back to a huge picture window. Sitting in front of him, I can see the view from the window perfectly. It’s stunning. To the left is the gothic Chapel, its bell tower reaching up into the sunny sky. In the center of the window is a long, verdant lawn, dotted with round, globe-like trees. The lawn runs all the way to the president’s house, a quaint colonial complete with Irish Setters asleep on the front porch.
"I’m so glad that I visited today. What beautiful weather this is to wander Connecticut’s second oldest college campus," I stammer to Bertrand, trying to remember the conversation ice breakers my mother had drilled into my head during our ride to Hartford.
Actually, I was not impressed by what I saw. While the campus itself is gorgeous, the destitute city blocks that encompass the college are not too appealing.
"What?" I had asked myself upon exiting the highway and driving onto Broad Street. "The brochure pictures look nothing like this."
"Mom, why is that man with a brown paper bag in your window?" asked my sister as a disheveled man with a bottle of God knows what in a brown bag tapped on the glass of my mother’s window.
"Shut up Adriana," said my father.
"Don’t make eye contact," ordered my omnipotent mother. I could tell she was focusing all her energy on the traffic light, telling it to turn green so she could take off and leave the man behind. It didn’t change. He kept knocking.
She lowered the window. "Yes?" she asked.
My father looked like he was going to kill her. "I can’t believe you," he murmured.
With a swig from his bag, and a wipe of his lip, the bum answered her with a, "Shut up bitch." Green light. Step on it Mama.
"What would your own university be like? Antonio University," asks Bertrand as I snap back into the present. "What is it?" he asks as he scribbles some notes in his notebook.
Dammit. Can’t anyone come up with original interview questions? I remember how the lady at the Jesuit University had asked the exact same thing.
"Oh, that’s easy," I said to her. "There would be a lot of good food in the dining halls. There would be no double dorm rooms. Singles for all. And of course, no core curriculum. I can’t stand a core. It’s the student’s money; they should be taught only what they want. Then they will be passionate about their education and succeed because they want to."
I finished my soliloquy with a smug smile on my face as I thought to myself, "Beat that admissions lady. I bet you thought you would trip me up with that one."
Her face contorted into a wrinkly mess of dissatisfaction. She looked like Dame Judy Dench when she did that. I really wanted to tell her that it didn’t suit her to make her visage all crumpled like a bloodhound. "We take our Jesuit tradition very seriously, ergo we take our core curriculum very, very seriously."
"We believe that a core makes for well-rounded students who are ready to tackle any obstacle they encounter in the world," she continued.
"Even crow’s feet?" I wondered..
Bertrand’s interview, though, is nothing like the Jesuit one, I think to myself as I look out the picture window at the Hartford skyline. He is a nice guy, and our conversation blossoms into a discussion concerning whether Willa Cather was a good author or not. I am completely at ease; I’ve got this one in the bag.
Bertrand then asks me what I want to study during my years in college. I say I have no clue; I would be fine with anything so long as it’s in the humanities.
"You know -- history, English, foreign language, and religion," I say.
"We have a great humanities program here," says Bertrand. As he continues on to solicit on behalf of the religion department, my mind produces yet another college visit memory.
It was back in the middle of summer. My mother and I were standing outside the admissions building at a college in Clinton, NY. We waited as a motley bunch of fellow prospective students formed our tour group.
After some time, the tour guide finally came outside to greet us. She was vile.
"Hi there everyone! WELCOME!" she screamed. "My name is Brittany, and I’ll be showing you our GORGEOUS campus today!"
I wondered how this chromosomally challenged Barbie got into this school. She wore a pink polo, pink shorts, and a pink silk scarf tied around her neck. On her man-sized feet were pink espadrilles, with two pink ribbons tied around her ankles. It looked like someone gift-wrapped Big Foot’s feet.
In the middle of the tour, I realized that Brittany was a glutton who would surely need liposuction one day in her life. At every stop we made on our tour, she would speak only about food. Nothing else; just food.
"This is the library. It’s okay. My only complaint is that they don’t let students eat in here. Party poopers. Hehehehehe!" she giggled.
"Here we are in Minor Theater. This place is awesome; they give out free cookies and frosting on select days during the winter. I love my frosting, and everyone on campus knows so. They text me when they see the frosting in there," she said with a wink of the eye.
Next we ventured into the Science Center. "This is my favorite place on campus," she said as she gestured towards a very nice room with a small sofa in the middle. It was a study that students could use to seclude themselves when they felt the need to buckle down and get to work. All around were huge windows that let the eye travel into the surrounding woods and wilderness. It was beautiful.
Brittany thought it was beautiful for a different reason. The pristine woods made no impression on her. She liked it because, "no one bothers you to share your snacks when you eat here. I sit here all alone and enjoy my food."
I reawaken to the sights and sounds of the admissions office as Bertrand asks me if I plan on studying abroad.
"Oh yes. Of course. I speak Spanish and French, so I guess I have a lot of choices available to me," I say.
"Yes you do!" he says passionately. "We have a great program in Santiago, Chile that I’m sure you would find most interesting."
Not really, Bertrand. If I did, I wouldn’t be blacking out of our conversation like Amy Winehouse on a Friday night.
As he commences a sermon about study abroad, my eyes wander towards the picture window and I quickly glance outside. What I see is pure horror.
The verdant lawn is still there. The many trees are still there. My family is now in view though: all three of them. My mother is on the lawn, shaking her finger at a tree. Her lips are moving, and I can only imagine what is coming out of them. I look at the tree. Holy shit! It’s shaking back and forth. It’s furiously vibrating and gyrating around and around. It’s alive!
No, it’s my father. His torso emerges in the leaves. He is making it move wildly about. I already know what he is doing. I can see the little balls falling from the tree as he shakes it furiously. These must be chestnuts, his personal favorite, and he wants them. Badly. This would explain why my little sister is quickly picking them up off the ground and throwing them into her massive hand bag.
I am petrified. Why am I petrified? I ask myself. They do this sort of stuff all the time... No, they really don’t. I can’t remember the last time one of our family outings entailed harvesting a nut tree on the lawn in front of the president’s house at Connecticut’s second oldest college.
"Is everything okay?" asks Bertrand. It must have been my face. Who could have kept a straight face while watching this mess outside?
"I’m...ummmm....fine," I say, glancing at the vison from hell. He notices that my attention has shifted, and begins to turn around.
"No! Don’t turn around! Can you tell me once more how many colloquia one has to take for the Human Rights major?"
He smirks. "Gladly."
He obviously knew something was awry. Smart ass.
Bertrand and I enter the admissions waiting room to find my parents are not there. "That’s funny," he says. "They were here when we left."
"Here we are!" screams my mother from the front doors, trying to sound pleasant but actually sounding horribly shrill. "We were just looking at the beautiful Chapel. I love that architecture, don’t you honey?" she asks my father.
"Yes, it’s very nice," he says as my sister picks a leaf off his shoulder.