Wednesday, December 23, 2009

East Commons: Part One

The other morning I walked out into the brisk 20-something degree air with Lucy for our daily exercise. In the slight breeze wafted the aroma of someone nearby cooking eggs and bacon and I was immediately transported back in time to the mid 80s sitting in East Commons at San Diego State University. Isn't it amazing how smell is so closely associated with memory!
Or, perhaps it is because The Kid will be going away (somewhere) to college next Fall that I've been thinking quite a bit lately of my own college experience?
In any event, on our walk, I let myself travel back in time to those good old days (and some parts of them WERE good!) Although there was much to ponder about, I settled on thinking about what the aroma of breakfast took me to; hanging out in East Commons.
I did not elect to partake in The Greek Life at SDSU; I had zero interest in it (even though SDSU had a notorious reputation for being THE party school). Rather, my friend Peri and I (we went through grade school, high school AND college together) opted from the get-go to hang out in the various cafeterias/commons before, in between and sometimes after classes.
Way back in the Fall of 1981, we started out at Monty's Den; typically sitting outside. This is where we first discovered the wonderfully dense cookies sold at the eateries throughout campus (funny how I just remembered that, too!)
It did not take long, though, for us to migrate to West Commons; mostly because it seemed to us that the older students hung out at Monty's Den (because they served beer there). Why we went ventured next to West Commons I'm not sure I recall; likely, it was because we both had classes nearby.
West Commons was our haunt of choice, then, until the Fall of 1982. I do know for a fact what caused us to leave West Commons for East Commons, or, I should say "who"; a guy by the name of Wayne.
One day while walking to the book store (which was near East Commons), Peri (who loved popcorn) decided to stop a the outdoor popcorn stand. Wayne, who was an East Commons cafeteria employee, was working the popcorn stand. He was a good looking man (21 or 22 to my almost 19) in a rough, blue collar sort of way. He was also friendly and engaging and seemed to be flirting with yours truly.
Over the next several days, I discovered I had an insatiable appetite for popcorn and we moved our hangout to East Commons.
At that point in time, East Commons, a vastly huge room, was divided into a non smoking section (near the main door) and a smoking section (the other side of the room close to the phone booths (remember those?) and the rear exit). There was also a patio area which we hardly ever used. The cafeteria portion was directly in front of the room and, to the right of it past the cash registers, was a stairway that headed down into the employee dining area.
Peri and I initially settled at a table somewhat in the middle of the room in the smoking section. Actually, we didn't have a particular spot then; we'd sit wherever, but it was generally in that area. I don't exactly know why we eventually moved to the far right table in the front (right next to the phone booths). Maybe it was so I could keep a better eye on Wayne (and his girlfriend, which it turned out he had) as he worked around the cafeteria? Or, perhaps it was due to the altercation we had with an Iranian man one afternoon between classes.
This being the early 80s, there were still uneasy relations between the students from the US and those from Iran (of which there seemed to be an inordinate amount, mostly in the Engineering school). The Iranians would sit together, usually in the middle of the room in the smoking section. They never spoke English so, if you happened to be sitting near them, you had no idea what they were talking about.
Anyway, on this particular afternoon, Peri and I were sitting at a table smoking away and drinking Diet Coke. This Iranian man (and maybe one or two others) sat down across from us with trays of food. They immediately set in to talking and eating, pointedly ignoring us; that is, until this one man realized our smoke was wafting in his direction.
It might be hard to comprehend this now that people hardly ever smoke in public places anymore and certainly not in a restaurant, but, neither Peri or I had any intention of putting out our cigarettes, even though it was apparent to both of us that our smoke was bothering him. Why? There were several reasons: We were in the smoking section. We were there first. They did not have to sit down there. We'd seen this particular group of men smoking in East Commons before. We were young and belligerent.
In any case, this man turned to us and in a very condescending way, told us (mind, he did not ASK us), to put out our cigarettes while he was eating. We didn't of course, upon which he glared at us hawkishly and said, "In Iran, women do as they are told". Peri retorted that we were not in Iran, in case he hadn't noticed; while I simply, and deliberately, blew smoke in his face.
He probably yelled at us; I can't really remember but I do know that Wayne (who as it turned out had been keeping an eye on me, too), came over and asked us if we were okay; at which point, I am pretty sure now that I've been recalling this, we stood up and moved to what would become for the next several years "Our Table".
Mrs. B

1 comment:

Analee said...

i could not live in iran. i also would have blown smoke in his face.