College, it’s not just for breakfast

My college days… I truly enjoyed going to college. My dream was to attend college somewhere away from Marquette. The University of Wisconsin at Madison was my first choice. I figured it was close enough to Marquette that I could drive back and forth on a weekend. I had several friends and relatives living in Wisconsin and Minnesota, so I know people nearby if I ever needed help. But mainly it would be a reason to leave Marquette and live somewhere else for a while. But after realizing the cost of the school and housing, I quickly put that dream to rest. Then maybe I was still a little afraid still to move away from Marquette. In Marquette I had family and friends to pick me up off the ground when I’d fall out of my wheelchair, repair my vehicles, change burnt out light bulbs I can’t reach. I could make a list a mile long on reasons I should stay in Marquette rather then moving away. Sorry Jeri, I need to tell this storey first. I was at the karaoke bar last week. Yes, I go up on stage and sing like the fool I am. Jeri is a lovely woman that is originally from Ireland. I don’t know why, but women with an accent are intriguing to meet and talk too. Maybe it’s because I know they’re from someplace else someplace I’d like to visit. When I was 17 and lying in a strange circle type hospital bed that rotated me every 6 hours from lying on my back to lying on my stomach, I day dreamed about getting a passport and traveling the world with my family and friends. You know what? I’m getting my haircut tomorrow. I’m taking my birth certificate and social security card with me. Before coming home, I’m going to get a picture taken then go to the post office and finally apply for the dam thing. Oh, Jeri asked me how I came to live in California. It was 11 o’clock. If you’ve been reading my stories, you know it wouldn’t be remotely possibly to finish telling a story like that before the karaoke bar closed in Japan’s time zone, so I told her about this blog and promised to write about it soon.

I’m lost. What was I talking about? Oh, college. I talked myself out of going to the University of Wisconsin and I signed up at Northern Michigan University (NMU). A university located right in Marquette. Looking back at it, I’m so glad I did. I learned a lot, meet some great people and had a lot of fun.

During that summer I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I missed the fall semester. I literally went to sign up a week after classes started. The lady at NMU told me I could start late that it would be OK, but I decided to wait and start on time. It worked out great. While Christmas shopping at Yonkers, a store so much like the Kohl’s department store Kohl’s bought them, I seen I briefcase for sale. It was on sale for 25% off because someone changed the combination and it was locked. I thought it wouldn’t take that long to go through all the combinations and open it if I bought it, but thought better of it. What did interest me was how useful it would be. I could carry my books, note books, pens, etc. in it to class then while there use it as a desk on my lap. After finding the briefcases that weren’t locked, I found the one with an interior I liked and a nice brown leather exterior, I bought it. I still have that briefcase today in my closet. It worked great. You’ve been to school. Those little desks are nearly useless for someone in a wheelchair. I say nearly. I’d put my books on the desk I was using for the class I was in and use my briefcase as my desk to write in my notebooks, do my class work and take my test and quizzes. Now, NMU would have put a table in every classroom just for me, as a matter of fact, they asked me in the beginning if I wanted someone to help me while I was on campus. I could have had a personal assistant pushing my wheelchair, carrying my books, opening doors, etc. for me every day I was on campus. But that’s not my style. I take a lot of pride in being as independent as I possibly can. My hands are paralyzed, so there are so many things I’ll never be able to do. I’ll always need some help, but I try, everyday. It’s not my legs’ being paralyzed that makes my life difficult, it’s the hands, or the lack of the ability to move them that is hard. What I do have that is so important to make my life SOOOOO much easier are leather push cuff mitts, or what I like to call wheelie mitts. I used to get them from a mail order company, but now I make my own. I’m still working on what materials are the best to use, but when I do I’ll post them on here for sale. I would not even attempt to make it through a day without a pair on. I use them to hold my pens and pencils, forks and spoons, knives even butcher knives, wrenches and screwdrivers, oh crap, everything I possibly can and I wouldn’t/couldn’t push my wheelchair without them. They are that important to me.

I knew college was a big step for me. Not just the higher education aspect of learning, but the mechanics of wheeling across the campus in the snow, taking notes (I couldn’t write very well) and all the other fears one can dream of that doesn’t come true, so I signed up for only two classes – a math class and an English class. I spaced an hour break in between the classes which turned out to be perfect. I got a B+ in both classes which put me on the dean’s list. I can do this!

My hand writing improved a lot during my first semester, which on a scale of 1 to 10 went from a 1 to a 4 or so. Often when trying to read my notes I’d spend forever trying to figure out some of the words. My spelling was/is terrible as well. During the summer break I bought my very first computer. It was an 8086 Xerox computer with a screen that had those orange dots for a display. I’m about 80% sure they were orange and not green, but I could be wrong. It had two 5 ¼ floppy drives, so that means no hard drive. My printer had the paper that had the holes in the side so the printer could continually feed the paper from a box you kept behind it. Of course the writing software was Word perfect 2.0. In order to do a spell check, you had to remove one of the 5 ¼ floppies and load the spell check program every time you wanted to use it. You saved your file on the 5 ¼ floppy as well, but you better be careful, they went bad often. In those days, you backed up everything at least once – often more. But it worked a lot better than a typewriter.

At Christmas I treated myself to my first computer upgrade, an internal hard drive. It was very small in today’s standards, but, wow, what a difference. The next year, my second semester I signed up for two classes again, then three classes my third. After that it was a full schedule. After a few semesters I bought another computer. It was a 386 (Northgate) with a color monitor. I had that computer for three years or so. I upgraded probably most everything on it but the mother board itself. I installed a faster processing chip, ram memory, video card, sound card, game card external CD drive and monitor. Near the end it kept crashing. It took me nearly a month toying with it installing and reinstalling everything in different order because at some point it would always crash. I think the best way to explain it would be to imagine buying a Dodge Dart car then trying to put on Pontiac heads, a Ford intake, a Jeep carburetor and Chevy wheels. Back in those days there were new computer companies popping up every day. But there weren’t many if any real standards if any. Often things weren’t compatible.  I finally gave up and bought my first Pentium powered computer. I believe it was a Gateway. I didn’t buy my first Dell computer until I moved out here to California. Over the years I must have owned 10 computers, which I still have three.

I loved my college years. Because I didn’t take a full schedule until my 4th semester, I was automatically going for five years or more to get my four year bachelor’s degree. I started off thinking accounting would be great, but after my first accounting class I knew that wasn’t for me. Next was a degree in computers, then? I didn’t know, so I took Northern’s class book and highlighted all the classes I had already completed in Northern’s Chrysler’s school of business program. They offered accounting, management, computer science, computer information, business, etc. One day I even made a spreadsheet on a excel type of software that showed all the degrees Northern offered in their school of business. I had each one showing what classes I completed for each one, what classes I still needed, credit completed, my running GPA grade point average and a few other stats. It wasn’t until I started my junior year. I needed to finally pick a major. I didn’t have a clue, but as luck would have it I actually dropped the Northern’s book of degrees. When I picked it up, it opened to a school of business degree I had no idea they offered. It felt like my guardian angel was up with the others looking down on me laughing at how stupid I am and saying, ‘’this guy wakes up every morning (even on Saturdays when the markets are closed) at 6am to watch the stock market and listen to the financial news, but he’s not smart enough to flip the page in a book ONE MORE TIME to see the college offers a degree in finance? Guess it’s time to knock the book out of his hands on to the floor and have it open on the finance degree page so he’ll see it.’’ I swear that’s how it actually felt to me. I bet a dollar I looked up and said thanks, I’m an idiot. So I finally graduated with a degree in finance and a minor in computer information systems. The world of finance just makes sense to me. It always has.

My last 4 or 5 semesters were probably my most fun. Well, not the second to last. I was taking finance and computer classes, which I truly enjoyed. I also joined a fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi (AKPsi) which some of my finance degree brethren were members of. Growing up in Marquette I knew countless number of people, then with all the friends I had at NMU, I had fun. I like who I am.

For a couple of semesters I was the Masters of Ceremony at AKPsi. It was always interesting when I’d have to speak during the official ceremonies. There wasn’t just the $2 to 5$ words I had to try pronounce, there was the $25 words too. During the practice sessions, everyone including me just laughed when I’d try to pronounce some/most of the words for the ceremonies. At the official ceremonies themselves I just did my best to read the words without slowing down or stopping. If you go to college, get involved in something on campus, especially if you’re going to school in your home town.

When I look back to my college days, a few memories always seem to pop into my head. The first one is a short quick one, lol! I’m sitting in the front row in the classroom. The professor flips through the stack of quizzes we took the day or class before and hands to the person sitting at the front desk all the quizzes for each person in that row. I quickly find mine and hand the rest behind me to the cute girl sitting behind me. She was a finance major, so she and I had been in a few finances class together. She was also in my fraternity, so we knew each other for a few semesters. I was really understanding the material, so I thought I did well. When the cute girl asked me how I did, my mouth couldn’t say the words. I showed her the quiz with the big red C on it. How did you do? I asked. I received an A, she replied. But I always tested well, she quickly added. I was bummed. I guess why this story means a lot to me is what she said next. Jerry, you understand this stuff. I don’t understand it at all. You know this stuff better then the teacher. You often correct him when he’s wrong. If it wasn’t for your discussion with the teacher, I wouldn’t have a clue what this class is about.

That meant a lot to hear her say that. I worked hard in college. I went to every class whether I wanted to or not. I read every chapter before the lectures. And I studied and did all the homework. The reading wasn’t my best part. I don’t learn easily from a book. Most of the time I’d finish reading the chapter(s), close the book and not have a clue what I just read. It took me a few semester to realize that was OK. Even though I didn’t remember it at the time, later during the lecture light bulbs would start to flash. That’s when I’d learn the material. If the teacher didn’t explain it so I could understand it, I’d ask questions. I’m not getting it. Why does this happen when you do that? Where does that number come from? Even though I often didn’t remember what read before the lecture, often during the lecture, often with a question or two, or three it would come back to me and begin to make sense. With the teachers that liked me asking questions, when I finally understood, I’d say something like, ‘’so what you’re really trying say is A = B because of C even though you can’t see C! And if I could make it funny so the class would laugh, I would. You may not believe it, but there were teachers that liked me because of doing that. When I would break down complicated theories into layman’s terms so I could understand it, the entire class would benefit. Some teachers would get me involved in the lecture because they knew the class would listen to us discussing it. Sometimes I would say off the wall things when asked what I think? I’d respond with something like, I think it’s time for lunch, or this class would be more fun if we wine, cheese and crackers right now or, I’m thinking about going to the R.E.O concert on Saturday night. Like I said, there were a few teachers that liked me, most just put up with me while some hated me. Some thought, who is this want to be comedian think he is trying to take over my class? A few times a classmate would kick my chair then give me the look like, STOP! Shut up, you’re pissing him off. Sometimes I’m not very smart. I’m often my own worst enemy.

Finally after every lecture I’d read the chapters again. I went to college for an education, not a piece of paper.

While I could write a book alone on my college years, the next two stories involve a cute little girl from East Beirut Lebanon. Her name was Jamona. I have no clue on how to spell her name. She was a finance major with me, so we had several classes together. She’d often ask me what classes I was going to take so she could take the same or suggest I take a different one with her, which I usually did. Jamona had this cute smile that if she would have asked me to rob a bank, I’d start planning it.

A teacher that taught several finance classes was named Charles something. Chuck as I called him was one of the teachers that liked my involvement in class. He was very smart and really knew what he was teaching, but too technical. With him it took time to understand his lecture. it often took a lot of questions. Sometimes I’d pretend like I understood just so he could finish his lecture, than catch him after class to have him finish explaining it. He was kind of like me. Sometimes when I’d ask him to explain something, he’d go back to the very beginning. The cavemen invented the wheel. The Egyptians learned how to use it as a measuring devise. They made a wheel a certain diameter, put a mark on it and attached it to a stick. Then when they push it in a straight line, they could measure long distances by counting the number of times the mark went around on the wheel. Then in the 1800s a professor studying the pyramids stumbled on the number 3.1416 when doing some measurements and calculation on the pyramids which leads him to believe the Egyptians invented Pi, which wasn’t true because of the wheel being used as the measuring devise, and on and on and on we both could go.

Sometimes when Chuck strayed too far from his lecture he’d be too lost to continue. He’d then tell us all that I got him too lost to continue and we’d have to learn it from the book. He’d then open the book and say something like, know what’s on page 144, he’d flip a page or two, the bottom paragraph of page 146, flip flip, and both 154 and 155 might show up on a quiz or a test. Jamona often sat next to me in class. Sometimes one of Chuck’s classes that met on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am to 11:40 am could drag on and on. Too often Jamona would poke me in the side and whisper to me to start talking to the teacher. I’d say no, I didn’t understand this chapter when I read it. 10 minutes more of a boring lecture later she’d poke me again, Jer we can get a Togo and drive around the Island. No, I need to learn this. Then after another poke or so she would just smile and say let’s go. That would be it. I look at Chuck and say something like, OK Chuck, why does the price of gas at the pump go up instantly when the price of a barrel goes up, but it takes so long for the price of gas to drop even though the price of oil did? Isn’t the gas at the pumped in a tank in the ground already paid for at the lower price? He’d switch to another board and start writing as he talked; well crude oil contracts are actually futures contracts to have crude oil delivered on a future date. The gas in the tanks in the ground, even though paid for acts like a series of one day contracts. The lower price gas in the tank has to be replaced at the higher price, so that means… Chuck at some point would stop, look at the chalk board with all the formulas that had nothing to do with today’s lecture and tell us to go home.

Jamona was a sweetheart. She use to always copy from me when we took quizes and tests. I never cared. I could get a C on them as easy as I could get an A. I graduated NMU with a 3.0 GPA. It’s something I’m proud of. My second to last semester was a tough one. I was taking five classes so I could graduate in May with my group of finance majors. Near the end of the semester the stress must have really been showing because out of the blue in the library she closed both of our books, sat on my lap, hugged me and whispered it’s going to be all right, you’re smart.

Sometimes it’s not just what you say, but when you say it. The semester ended.  Then it was the Christmas break. When I started my last semester her words, as simple as they were opened my eyes to what I was about to accomplish. I was going to be the first and maybe only child of Peter and Lois O’Dovero that graduated with a bachelor’s degree (in finance) from college. That semester, my last, I finished on the dean’s list. Thanks Jamona for believing in me. I hope you’re doing well.