This past weekend TW and I went to Charlottesville to visit The Boy, who is in his fourth year at UVA. (For reasons I still don’t understand, UVA doesn’t use terms like “sophomore” or “senior.” But he’s a senior.) The excuse was a football game, but the real reason was to see him in his daily habitat before it all changes.
Virginia’s football team this year is, uh, characteristic of a school whose top sport is basketball. But the weather was perfect, and the crowd singalongs and choreography are always memorable. The games are a participatory experience, win or lose.
I got to see TB’s apartment. If you picture an apartment of four 21-year-old men without much money, you’ve pretty much got it. I had to smile at the “curb-rescued” furniture, having earned that merit badge myself in grad school. His current desk, dresser and chair are all curb rescues, as are both of the couches in the common area. TW was a bit wary of it all, but I recognized it and even took some pride in wildcat recycling done well. There’s no shame in resourcefulness, and I’d rather it wind up there than in a landfill.
Years ago, I read a distinction between “broke” and “poor.” The former is a temporary state of being low on money but having other resources to draw upon if needed. That’s where I was in grad school and where TB is now. “Poor” is being low on money and stuck that way for the foreseeable future. That’s not the same thing. TB knows that if an emergency strikes, he has parents and other family who can help out materially. That takes much of the fear out of it. A few months ago, when he needed a $500-ish car repair posthaste, I had him put it on my card. That kind of backup makes some curb-rescued furniture tolerable. To his credit, he gets the distinction.
Still, he hustles. He has several part-time jobs at various health-related places in town and also plays lead guitar in a cover band. On Saturday night we sat in on the first half of the band’s set at a local bar. We were probably at least 30 years older than the median age of the audience, which was probably 40 or 50 people altogether. When the bass player announced from the stage, “Shout-out to [TB]’s mom and dad!” we got some nice “woo-hoos” from the crowd. It was my first official shout-out from a rock band; I’ll take it. TB wasn’t embarrassed, so that helped. I had to smile when he and the rhythm guitarist, a young woman with stage fright, played back-to-back in homage to a rock cliché. The gesture—a charming way to include someone who wasn’t sure she belonged up there—was very him.
He doesn’t yet know exactly what will come after graduation, but he knows what he wants, and he’s taking the right steps to get it. It just might take a while. Happily, he’s resilient enough to hang in there while various processes take the time they take.
And I’m happy to report that some elements of student life—at least in this setting—remain recognizable. Decades have passed, but student apartments are still student apartments, and cheap bar cover bands are still cheap bar cover bands. As they should be.