It started with a simple question. We saw a billboard for Denny’s on our road-trip, and we asked each other “When was the last time you were in a Denny’s?”
It took a minute, but I came back to the summer I was 19, the summer of “Fun 101” a mandatory course “taught” to me by my brother.
It is no secret that my years in college were mostly miserable, that I graduated in 3 1/2 years, not out of academic prowess, but efficiency fueled by loathing and anxiety. I am a true introvert, meaning I re-energize with solitude and quiet, the exact opposite of what a dorm life provides. There were some bright, shining lights during that time, for absolute sure, like ballroom dance and the promise of gobs and gobs of overflowing crab-apple and cherry blossoms on campus each spring. But more than that was my corps of incredible, fun, funny people I had the extreme good fortune of knowing. I had a Samip, a great, positive, true friend who talked with me for hours about all the stuff big and little, saved me seats in lectures, gave me Pepperidge Farm cookies and pep talks at my weakest. Everyone should be so lucky. I had a Sachin to take every single class with, to talk me down from the calculus ledge, to be the steady rudder. I had a Pallavi, a true peach of peace and brilliance, a Becky, a Yoshie, a Robin, an Erika, a Jason, quirky, honest, incredible roommates and friends who made everything, even dire Women Studies, Russian history and Genetics courses more fun, more amazing, more manageable. .
I was also in over my head in the track of advanced chemistry and calculus and Spanish literature classes I had somehow fallen into. I started getting migraines my sophomore year, triggered by an allergy to cockroaches and excessive stress, a soup I was apparently swimming in. (Another strike against dorm living: Cockroaches, who, even though supposedly were not currently residing there, had lived and died and left all sorts of lovely dross in the walls to be kicked up into the air during renovations. Yum.)
And then my grandmother died and my Yoshie somehow solved the problem of the poster presentation I was to deliver and I took a coach bus home to say good-bye the week before finals. And it sucked.
I remember being at my parents’, finally, for the summer, and one of my brothers came home and spilled out of the Party Wagon, ran across the lawn and threw his shoes in the air, yawping and hooting. “It’s summer! Can you FEEL IT?!? HUH? Can ya?” He grabbed me and tried to toss me around too until I punched him in the stomach and he went back to throwing his shoes and taking off his shirt and throwing that too.
That’s when he came up with the idea that I needed to take “Fun 101 with Tiefsa!” He would teach. I would be his only student. True, I was miserable, and while my summer job of working at my home-town’s Department of Public Works was liberating in how much it didn’t challenge me mentally, it also meant I drove a riding lawn-mower around my grandmother’s fresh gravestone while listening to Pearl Jam on repeat. I was in a depressing slump and Dave meant to change that. God bless him for doing that summer what my corps of faithful faithfuls had been doing all year—buoying me up.
Except that most of “Fun 101” meant I was a designated driver for my brother to parties, music festivals and beer tents, to the Harley rally on Water Street. (That was my last class, through no fault of my brother’s. Dave told me early on, “I’m done! Stick a fork in me! Take me home!!”, and I intended to, but hours later when we finally did make it to our driveway, his friend Brad told me from the back seat for the thousandth time “Jam on!” and I screamed at him “NO BRAD! JAM OFF! GET OUT OF THE CAR!” Fun 101 Fail.)
There were other Fun 101 requirements than being the DD, although most of them I have forgotten now….until the Denny’s question. Ah. Late night at Denny’s with my brother, and probably friends Art, Kerry, Adam and more. We were drinking coffee and eating french fries, scrabbling to pull together a tip for the waitress and my brother brought out a two-dollar bill, probably from our Grandpa, and slapped it on the table, “BAM!” And we fell all over ourselves in hysterics. Ah, the enthusiasm of youth.
So. When was the last time you were at Denny’s? I hope it brings back good memories of good friends.