Iowa

Distracted that hot summer, you’d done the minimum to prepare for college in the fall. At the last minute you ended up accepting the lone invitation you’d been lucky enough to receive: from a miniscule liberal arts school in Mt. Vernon, Iowa. It had fewer students than your apartment had tenants. Sure, why not?

Arrived at Cornell you firmly believed it was the real you who showed up: the intellectual poet, able to drink and fuck all night and write about it the next day. Students and professors alike would be captivated by your artistic soul. You’d have a diverse peer group, one that would appreciate you in all your complicated glory.

You almost pulled it off.

Not surprisingly, you adored collegiate academics, taking to literature and philosophy like a fish to water. Math sucked but you’d always hated that subject anyway. Besides, you were going to be a successful writer. You’d pay an accountant to count all your money.

You wrote sordid poetry, reveling in how it provoked your less sophisticated classmates. You were a provocateur, like Bukowski. Now here was a role you could relish.

Despite coming from the big city, you enjoyed the smallness of the school as well as the town. In Mt. Vernon there were only two bars, one for the students and the other for locals, mostly farmers who wore their dirty tractor caps with pride. Having had ample experience navigating dichotomies, it was easy sliding from one base to the other. In many ways, you preferred the local atmosphere, basking in its authenticity, developing a growing appreciation for real women who worked for a living as opposed to the entitled girls who didn’t.

Alas, the good vibes would be short lived. Turns out many of the students were not as keen about your iconoclast personae as you were. Rather than changing your game, you glommed onto a pair of likeminded outsiders: a super rich Mexican named Ricardo and a fellow Chicagoan, Billy from the tough streets of Bridgeport.

In your eyes, you were The Three Amigos! The Three Musketeers! Others undoubtedly saw you as The Three Stooges. But so what? As a trio, you reveled in the virtue of your minority status. Applying it to captivate the virtue of others. The Three Amigos created a makeshift gambling empire, taking bets on horse races tallied from the newspaper. Drunk and high, The Three Musketeers stole a car in Iowa City and for good measure rolled it straight into a pond in the center of campus.

These acts endeared you to no one. But it was your seduction of a pretty coed that ultimately caused you the most grief. A tiny campus, word spread fast that you’d taken advantage of this poor girl. Soon, you were blackballed from parties. A footballer threatened you, claiming he’d kick your ass if he ever saw you with her again. Not an issue as women no longer wanted anything to do with you. In your dorm’s bathroom someone composed unflattering graffiti about you, highlighted by an equally demeaning portrait. You had long hippie hair, a sleazy mustache and an earing. Behind you was the skyline of Chicago, lest anyone be confused.

Clearly, you’d overstayed your welcome.

Next year, you would attend the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a far bigger, famously liberal, more edgy environment, where your kind, whatever that was, could flourish.

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