Can I Live With You? A Penn State Story – Part I

February 18, 2018 § Leave a comment

It was Summer 1982. In fact it was August, and my second year of Graduate school would begin in a matter of weeks. When I departed State College in May, I was a graduate student in the Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics. They had been kind enough to grant me the privilege of not leaving Penn State when I had finished my undergraduate degree the previous December. “Well, we have money to support you as a grad student and you can teach Engineering Mechanics to a new class of undergraduates while you take time to meet with professors and see what you want to do.” In case you didn’t read that correctly, let me re-phrase it. I went in there and cried like a baby that I didn’t want to leave college yet, and they said “No Problemo”, and not only did they say that, but they also said, “And we will pay your tuition, and give a monthly stipend so you can continue to be a college bum!”. What a deal!

So, after graduating, I returned for Winter and Spring terms where I taught Engineering Dynamics (EMech 202 :)) to Freshmen (and Freshwomen). I made new friends in the department but when the Spring Term was over I took the summer off and returned to NJ where I worked my last Summer at Photo Cullen, and exercised my usual big loop that included Montclair, Little Falls, Woodland Park and Clifton. I probably should have stayed at school, but I hadn’t lined up a research project, and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do. That is probably one of the reasons that I did not secure housing prior to departure, and not doing anything about it all Summer. As the summer waxed on a plan developed to return about one week prior to the start of term, and hit the “roommate wanted” board in the Bouke Building, and pick up a room that way. What could go wrong with that plan?

Some time in the middle of the Summer I received a call from Courtney Burroughs, who was a shared associate professor resource between the Acoustics Dept. and the Engineering Science and Mechanics Dept. He had some graduate assistance money available in the area of far-field acoustic radiation underwater, and was checking to see if that kind of work would be of interest to me. There were three main areas of focus within my department: There was the hard core Engineering Mechanics related research topics with more than a few professors hosting graduate work; There was a growing Materials Science effort being cultivated by Dr. Phonash and many others; Finally, there was Vibration and Acoustics, where Acoustics was was a growing area led mainly by Dr. Hayek. It was this latter group that I was interested in, and this is where the offer was coming from.

I accepted their offer, and with the Summer almost gone, it was time to focus on getting back to school to find a place. At this point, I no longer at any acquaintances left on campus to bum a sofa off of, so I drove all the way to Altoona to utilize a sofa with a former roommate Cathy. I gave myself a couple of days to find a place, and drove up to main campus, took some sheet tabs from some posted adverts, and then made some phone calls and setup visits. The process in these days, was people either filled out a 3×5 card with a phone number, or they put up a sheet with 15 or 20 tabs at the bottom of the sheet with a phone number written on each tab. I was looking for something that was mainly in town, my own room if possible, and not necessarily with a bunch of first or second year under-graduates. I was grad student now, and after my first party year as an under-grad, I settled into a pretty decent work ethic and devoted the time necessary to achieving my goals. Getting tied up with party animals wasn’t in the cards. Of course, I also had an animal, so finding a place in town that allows pets was going to make my job that much harder.

The first day, I drove around and checked out everything I had taken tabs for, and nothing seemed right, so I drove back to Altoona with nothing achieved. Another early start, I hit the Bouke building again, and opened myself to some other possibilities, and then set out to check these out, widening my area of operations to include places further outside the downtown region. In all cases, it was under-graduates, and the fit never seemed right. It turns out I lied a couple of paragraphs back. I did have Pat and Geno. I befriended Geno when I used to live out at the old Laurel Glen Apartments (at least two name changes since) and Geno was a bus driver with Centre County. I stayed in touch with them when I did my cross country trip, and I developed our relationship more in the year prior, and I did manage to gain an invite to spend the night there until I found a place to live.

I was running out of time, with classes set to begin in a couple of days. I needed to find something soon, and then I needed to make the round trip home to get all my stuff. I was just about resigned to going to the Graduate Office and seeking housing in Atherton House, then main on-campus dormitory for grad students, when I decided to pay one last visit to Bouke Building. When I walked in, there was a young woman with silky straight brown hair, a slim figure, and a very cute face filling out a “roommate wanted” card to put on the board. I was still looking to be a “wanted roommate”, and so I got up the nerve to ask her if she would consider having a man as a roommate. She replied that the “unit was an efficiency”, and “no”. I was not, apparently, that easily deterred. “I am a graduate student, very quiet, and I don’t smoke!” thinking that last part about not being a smoker would be the sugar cube that would sweeten the deal potential. “Well, I DO smoke” was her comeback reply, and by this time, she had posted the card, and was gathering her things to leave.

I had no things to gather, so I followed her out the door. “Maybe you could just let me come by and see the place, we can talk some more, and then you can make a decision.” She was acting rushed, and headed across the street to the Student Union Building. “I need to make some photo copies, and then I have an appointment with someone.” I followed her, me a 6’4″ skinny rod, her a 5’1″ slender stick, she in front and I believe giving all the body language that basically said “Please get lost”. I didn’t relent, and got her to at least make a time for my to come by and check the place out later that afternoon. With approval for that , we departed. As I didn’t grab any other information from the board, I killed time until the agreed upon hour arrived, and I walked down to her place on College Avenue. Turns out it was just up the street from Tony’s Sub Shack, a a place I have discussed in a previous post, and I found her apartment on the fourth floor. I knocked, she opened the door, and in I went.

When she said “efficiency”, what that meant was individual privacy deficiency. This was a single large room with two “convertible” sofa-beds on each wall, a large closet, a kitchen dinette area, and the only private room in the apartment, the bathroom. We sat at some bar stools in the kitchen area, and we talked. I can’t say exactly what was said, but I know that I must have presented myself fairly well. In talking to me, she got to know me, and I think I must have seemed less of an unwanted prospect than when I first started up the chatter back in the Bouke Building.

School started in days, so she needed a roommate, I needed a place to stay. It was not a place my dog could come, but I offered up a compromise, that with time running out, why don’t we settle on 1 trimester, where we would share the place. I would leave my dog in NJ with my Mom, and during these 10 weeks we would both use that time to find a more suitable housing option. Me, I could see how places opened up as kids packed up and threw in the towel, and she, could harvest the remains of people who found themselves living with incompatible people looking for new options.

With those conditions set, she agreed to rent the space to me. Honestly, I don’t think I had to drive back to NJ, as I must have had everything in my Mom’s car, but I must have had to go back, because I didn’t own a car then, and I certainly wasn’t going to have one there with me, so I must have returned home, and then found a return ride. Lost, those details are, but the detail that counts, is that I moved in that day. Susan, accepted my proposal, and we were now roommates in an efficiency apartment together. How this was going to work out, neither of us, at the time, had a clue.

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