This random flashback brought to you by hearing Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” on the radio this afternoon. The Current’s is playing a lot of Sam Cooke this week because he’s the artist of the week and I am in heaven, because I love Sam Cooke.
The start of college was especially rough for me. I had to delay my start by a semester because my parents didn’t realize the importance of sending in the $100 to hold my spot in the freshman class. They also never bothered to tell me and since I knew exactly 0 people who had ever gone to college before, I had no idea what orientation was like or how things were supposed to go.
At that time we were basically homeless, living in a two-room garage that was converted into a “cabin.” Six people. Two rooms. It was horrible. Of course, that didn’t stop me from going to a friend of my parents’ house to use the phone so I could call UWEC and ask what the hell was going on and why didn’t I get some shit about when school started and registering for classes and all that?
I can’t remember who told me “Umm, you aren’t enrolled here because you never sent in that money.” I do remember I cried for about a week.
Eventually, after a letter-writing campaign filled with desperate pleas the school said I could start in the spring semester of 1991. Eventually, my parents found us a house too. So when I started college in 1991, I was living at home. I had no idea the importance of dorm life when it came to actually making friends in school.
I think I spent my first semester of college in silence. I didn’t talk to too many people. Occasionally, my editor at the student newspaper. Sometimes the person who sat next to me in the giant lecture hall where all those awful 101 classes took place.
But then I had Journalism 201 (or 212 or 223) that second semester. It was a small lab class, maybe a dozen or so students. We sat around a table in a computer lab and were given assignments that we were supposed to report on one week and then write the next week in class. At least I think that’s how it worked. It’s 20+ years since this happened and I’m getting to that age where I can’t tell what is a real memory and what is fan fiction I wrote in my head.
This was one of those classes required by all Journalism majors no matter what track you were one (print, advertising, or broadcast). I have no idea why advertising was included in the school of journalism, but it was. I was a print major.
Derek was the guy who sat next to me. A blond-haired kid a year older than me with a penchant for hockey jerseys, Derek was an advertising major and he loathed a class that required him to write in complete sentences. He was always amazed by how I would spend 90% of our writing time looking at the computer screen thinking of a lead paragraph and then once it hit me bang out the entire assignment in ten minutes.
I had a giant crush on Derek, mostly because he talked to me. Like he might have been the first friend I made in college. He would always tell me about what he was doing and how much he had to drink the night before or what party he’d gone to. And I always listened because it made me feel a little less lonely, a little more human.
Whenever I hear Sam Cooke’s “Chain Gang” I instantly think of Derek. He told me one day in class about an epic night before with his roommates where they sat around drinking Leinie’s and singing “Chain Gang.” There was some mild confusion because I was thinking Chrissie Hynde and not Sam Cooke.
I remember him shaking his head in disbelief, and then he started the singing the song, complete with the “uhh” and “ah” and keeping time by hitting his chest. It was weird and mesmerizing and it made me like him a whole lot more than I did before.