It was auctioned off for £7,500 in 2004.
Being on the East Coast has got me reminiscing not infrequently about the good ol’ college days. They were good, and now they’re old. And they all happened in Middlebury, VT. Nowhere is quite like the place, where coffee runs free as the wind and gay deans freer than even that. I miss it.
Here at Northwestern U, people talk casually of salaries and “settling down.” It creates the illusion that no Middlebury exists, that nowhere in the world are there people like one Martin J. MiddKidd, a real boy whose story was told to me this weekend, and must be retold here.
Martin was an idealistic lad when he entered the college, prone to smoking a doobie now and then to aid in his musings on the perfect world of his parents and an elder brother – let’s call him “Rex” – all of whom lived a happy existence in the grand state of Vermont. It wasn’t long after Martin’s entry into the school that Rex graduated, and off to the Panamanian oil rigs did Big Rex skip, to hop them and perhaps makes some good of himself in this oft bereft world.
Over the next three years, Martin availed himself of all the pot he could find – but not to make the happiness happier, as had previously been the case; no, now it was to ease the pain. For Rex had disappeared. The rigs swallowed him up, or so it seemed, as not even the hiccup of a brotherly word had come from the land of famous hats.
Here I interrupt the narrative to explain a ritual of great importance at Middlebury College. At the end of each January, a hundred students can be seen skiing down the mountain owned by their school to accept a diploma at its foot. It is the graduation ceremony for Febs – students who rather than enter college in the fall with their peers, instead “find themselves,” often in the wilds of Costa Rica, and so graduate a full semester behind.
Martin was one such student, having found himself in a treehouse in Chile.*
So it was that Martin trekked up the school-owned mountain one particularly cold day in January, a full four years after his first day at the school, his friends at his side and his parents waiting below to watch another son graduate and hopefully not vanish this time. Little did our hero know the workings on the other side of that mountain.
For Rex, not fully a spectre yet, had hitchhiked his way across oceans and back to his home state, where, by his internal calculations, his younger brother would soon be skiing down a mountain known intimately to the boys since childhood, and into the wide future. Rex had tracked down that mountain, and with only his will and a knobbly stick to aid him, hiked up its back.
In the blue light of a January noon at the mountain’s highest point, the two brother’s met, Rex with an unmarked letter in hand, and Martin streaming tears marked by a myriad emotions – the strongest among them, confusion.
Whether any words were exchanged between the two was impossible to note by onlookers.
All that took place for certain was the transfer of the letter – its contents also unknown – and the retreat of Rex back down the mountain’s flank in the face of impassioned pleas from his brother to stay. The reunion was momentary and pregnant with loss from the get-go, the kind usually reserved for the most tragic of lovers.
Martin sailed down the mountain that day, but only with the speed of circumstance (there were skis on his feet). In his heart, he trudged. At the bottom were his parents, who bore the news of his brother’s sudden reappearance and immediate exit with the kind of unsentimental questioning Rex was no doubt attempting to escape: “He’s here?” “What the hell?” “Why’d he leave again?”
The answer was staring them plain in the face: Middlebury. It makes people crazy.
Only this time my whole family found out.
First call: Saturday AM. Placed from: England.
My uncle begins with, “You don’t spend time in South Chicago, do you?”
I hear my grandmother shout something in the background.
“No,” I say. “Not really.”
“Amma,” he yells. “It’s okay. She doesn’t go to South Chicago.”
“We heard about the shootings,” he explains to me. Instead of asking what shootings, as I am first inclined to, I say, “Oh yeah. The shootings.”
“Ajji just wanted to make sure you were okay,” he says.
“Let me talk to her,” I say.
She takes the phone.
“It’s okay Ajj, no shootings on my end.”
She tells me she read about it, and got worried. I reassure her that I rarely head to the South Side, and point out that I’m currently at a restaurant that serves avocado mousse.
“But as a journalist, you must go into these areas,” she says. “You cannot discriminate.”
I am filled with love for her.
“So start wearing bullet proof vests,” she concludes. “All bullet proof. That’s what you need.”
First email: Sunday PM. Placed from: Dallas.
Subject: Urgent, heard about shootings.
Body: Heard about the shootings. Please call. Love Dad.
Before calling, I decide to research these famed shootings, of which the Raos are all up ons.
Turns out five women shopping at a Lane Bryant in a strip mall were killed by men trying to steal money. It’s awful and tragic like most of Chicago’s news. But come on. I’m a size two. It’s a Lane Bryant. Still, I say. Let me comfort my father.
He greets me with a Hi, sounding strangely relaxed for someone concerned his daughter might be dead. But then, oh yes. I hear a Superbowl party in the background.
“So you were worried about the shootings?” I ask.
“Just wanted to make sure you’re okay,” he says. It sounds like he’s eating chips.
“Dad,” I say, “the shooting was on the South Side, at a store for overweight women.”
It’s quiet for a moment.
Then, “Are you watching the game?” he asks.
And thus, my grandmother fears were addressed and, eventually, put to rest.
I’m starting a new category just for Tyra. Because as my friend Alex noted, I have this “thing” with her.
Chris says I’m just going for easy targets, implying that I’m lazy. I figured out what you were implying Chris, after a while! But I’m not! Just…in my bathrobe at 4 pm writing about how Tyra Banks is not a real intellectual! That’s super not lazy.
My latest favorite Tyra video is this one of her going undercover as a homeless woman. She lets us know that “anything can happen out there” while her homeless makeup is getting done. And then she says she’s been advised to wear really heavy boots so as to protect herself from the needles. Cut to sad music, man helping Tyra into boots.
Her homeless impression is pretty good when she’s not talking, but then she tells two cute “homeless” kids playing basketball, “My name’s Tyra!” and it all falls to shit. When they point out an abandoned crack pipe, she asks “so people really do this right on the street?” and she’s even more not homeless. Then the boy tells her someone probably dropped the pipe after getting scared off by all of Tyra’s cameras. That’s when she’s most not homeless.
There’s a scene missing where Tyra panhandles.
The next part involves Tyra and some sort of homeless consultant. Judging from the way this woman and everyone else we’ve seen so far is dressed, it’s not very cold out; but Tyra is still wearing all of the homeless gear she possibly can, including those cut off gloves that are so in right now. They go into a gas station where Tyra, like one of the Boxcar children, delights in declaring loudly that they just can’t spare the money for this two dollar bottle of shampoo. Then she asks which they should splurge on: salty or sweet foods. “What is going to fill us up longer?”
Alex pointed out at this juncture that she often has the same moment just before road trips.
Now Tyra is ready to “get cleaned up,” although I worry she risks rubbing off her homeless makeup. She brushes her teeth and takes a makeshift shower in the sink. A dirge-like tune about “just giving her one good reason why she shouldn’t fall” plays.
At this point she realizes that she’s going to have a real shower tomorrow. Then she realizes she’s not really homeless. Then she realizes other people really are. Then she asks her camera crew to leave the bathroom. Then she cries.
So now we come to the most confusing part of the show, when Tyra calls back those two adorable homeless kids who dress really well and gives one of them a “free-lance job as a PA for the director of the Tyra Banks show.” I have no idea what a free lance job as a PA means (I swear the kid mouths “what the hell is that?”). His qualifications for the job seem to be based on some documentary he and his “homeless” sister made – an activity that seems distinctly un-homeless. As usual, Tyra is the most excited about the prize of doing something for her show.
Then this lady gets called up who claims to be the mother of these children. But I don’t think she is. She’s white and they’re really black.
Tyra gives them money and the homeless problem is solved just a little.
Except they’re probably not really homeless and the boy knows a lot about nickel rocks.
Now you watch.
P.S. I really like when the kid tells Tyra that the crack pipe won’t hurt her.