Friday, August 22, 2003

A freshman for every season

Our university’s most recent shipment of freshman (and, psh scoff, junior transfers) has for the most part settled into its new surroundings. And all but the most obsessive parents have by now driven back home to Irvine, Fresno, Pleasanton, leaving their beloved valedictorians and wrestling stars in the dust of their mid-priced sedans. The class of 2007 has at this point discovered Blondies, Top Dog, and that frightening woman who sells hats outside Smart Alec’s. And with any luck they’ve even discovered Smart Alec’s. Each new student has been asked “What’s your major?” an average of 38.5 times since Sunday, “Where you from?” 40.2 times. For most, the answer to at least one of those questions will change before the terminus of their undergraduate experience.

I trekked out to Buffalo Exchange after work today in an ultimately fruitless attempt to find a nice A-line skirt that I could go with this one pair of heels I bought at Pay-Less two months ago and have yet to wear. Though I did find a swell white collared shirt there for only $11, I first had to navigate my way through dozens of Converse-clad freshman with dyed black hair stocking up on the season’s newest old clothes, each trying so desperately to choose the too-tight pants or classic Reeboks that most effectively convey that they just don’t care how they look. An army of Emo/Indie/Pseudo-punk teenagers racing to defy the mainstream.

On the walk back from skirt-buying failure I noticed a quartet of ladies, presumably new to Berkeley, outside Fat Slice conversing and laughing with Dr. Jokemon. I also saw a pair of boys smirking at a gutter punk’s hand-written “Money for pot” sign and rewarding his clever conceit with some spare change. And another group of friends in flip-flops and tank tops lamenting the presence of the Gap on Telegraph. And gaggles of other wide-eyed Berkeley newcomers, trying in one week to absorb all the presupposed culture of their adopted city before school starts and they begin to stop caring what everyone else’s major is.

But by next semester a fair number of our disaffected Buffalo Exchange friends will have discovered Ross (of Dress for Less fame) and the necessity of $2 underwear, even if said underwear isn’t Indie. The wisdom of the scary blue lipstick lady will by winter turn yet again into rambling. In November the freshmen will get tired of Dr. Jokemon’s quips and will start walking on the other side of the street to avoid him. As soon as next week a few bright youngsters will realize that gutter punks are just rich white kids who aren’t actually undermining capitalism, but simply being lazy. Perhaps just six days into their Berkeley residence, a handful of Cal freshman, eager to cast off the shackles of suburban conventionality but already disillusioned to the prospect of finding sincerity, have noticed that the people at the Gap and the people living on the street are motivated by the same forces, and that both groups just want your goddamn money. They’ve realized that the indie-emo-hippie-protest-punks up here are just as phony and shallow as their Orange Country brethren, it’s just that folks in Berkeley have learned how to hide it with piercings and a faux tolerance for filth.

And by this time next month they’ll all be so absorbed with buying text books and studying for midterms that they’ll forget how to be disaffected.


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