Monday, February 09, 2004

Ben Visits UK
My son Ben is a senior in high school, a stage that seems to be one of those defining moments in the relationship between how smart we are and how smart we think we are. The next leg of that frustrating journey is college, and we believe it's important to choose a school carefully. Making the decision tougher is the fact that all schools seem to be highly qualified to present Ben with his top school-selection criterion: cute girls.

But just to make sure, he's been taking field trips. Recently, Ben went to Lexington to tour the University of Kentucky, or as it's known locally, U-Kai (and in some corners, U-a-Kai). His mom Mary and I tagged along, in order to investigate the university's non-girl-related educational offerings.

The visit began in a hideously blue auditorium with a surprisingly corporate PowerPoint presentation delivered to a large group of dirty teenagers accompanied by their world-weary parents. A chirpy, middle-aged woman monosyllabically delivered the PowerPoint presentation, filling us in on the finer points of the campus layout, housing, financial aid, keg-tapping, STD ointments, and many more need-to-know facts about college life. After a full hour of such torture, we got to tour the campus. Our tour guide, Chad (whom Ben quickly nicknamed "Hanging Chad"), was a slender chap in a UK blue golf shirt with impossibly blond hair.

Hanging Chad led us through a drizzling rain to our first stop, a building that curiously houses both the School of Dance and the rifle range for the ROTC. I shit you not. Said Chad: "If you like shooting or dancing, this is your spot." I made my index finger into a pistol and said, a little too loudly, "Some people like both!" and pantomimed shooting at Ben's feet, wild-west style, while he danced. This pantomime endeared us to the crowd, which ever after looked to us for comic relief.

We continued on through the drizzle, passing outside one charming brick building after another, but curiously never setting foot inside any of them. The campus is beautiful but massive. We walked what seemed like a hundred city blocks and Chad finally allowed us inside three buildings: the William T. Young Library, the student fitness center and a dorm. The dorm was exactly like my college dorm room: tiny, stinky, and cramped. Basically, fine. The brand-new Johnson Center was not the School of Urology but rather a fitness center that is probably a considerable amount fancier than God's Y in heaven. It has scores of basketball courts, nautilus equipment, and a climbing wall, where presumably students can practice escaping the campus police. But by far the most impressive place on the whole campus is the William T. Young Library. Wow! I would almost be willing to enroll at UK myself just to have access to this place. It houses four stories of books, plus study rooms, wireless Internet throughout, and free notebook computers to check out. The library and books were largely funded by William T. Young, a thoroughbred zillionaire and local legend who has almost single-handedly renewed my belief in capitalism.

Continuing the tour, Hanging Chad briefly gave us the downlow on practically every building on campus (which we then promptly forgot). We walked through a shabby Fraternity Row where the infantile behavior was palpable, even though it was raining and all the frat boys were presumably inside, sleeping off something involving grain alcohol and melons and perhaps centipedes. We saw the "Freshman part of campus" and all the Schools – Engineering, Communications, Dentistry, Free Throws, Dribbling, Three-Point Shooting, Fine Arts, and so on. Amazingly, we never saw a classroom. We kept expecting Hanging Chad to take us inside some buildings and at least let us peek into a classroom, but it never happened. (We later speculated that maybe UK doesn't actually *hold* classes. Perhaps a follow-up e-mail to Hanging Chad is in order.)

One cool aspect of the campus layout is that almost all freshmen attend their classes in one tower and a couple of smaller buildings located at an "L" intersection in the middle of campus. This setup means that not only do freshmen stick together and get to know each other's unique scents, but that when you're new to UK, you don't have to scramble across the sprawling campus to get from class to class. Also, the L is very close to most of the dorms. So you could conceivably attend this huge school but rarely leave a tiny portion of its geographic center, which seems very handy for young people who sometimes get lost looking for their own body parts, as well as convenient for students wishing to participate in an impromptu study group, say, or a spur-of-the-moment spliff.

And huge it is: there are over 25,000 students at UK and that doesn't even include the adjacent Lexington Community College, which has another 7500 Starter Cats.

After the L, Hanging Chad took us through the yard of the President's Home, which is right in the middle of campus and quite charming, with lovely gardens and a voyeur's view inside the outer portions of the manse. Hanging Chad claimed you could often see the Prez and the Missus inside sharing a scone or perhaps a nooner. No, really, he didn't say that; but he did say you can sometimes see them having lunch, an image that left the high-school seniors on the tour wholly unimpressed but one that the pigment-challenged Chad seemed quite enchanted with.

Back at the student center, we ran into some of Ben's high-school buddies and their parents and we all agreed to go to lunch at a ridiculously loud joint called Ramsey's. The food was fine (fried green tomatoes!) but a bad place to try to have a conversation, so we parents all made small talk over the din, while our minds reeled with wild-eyed thoughts like Can you fucking believe our sons are almost ready to leave us and go to college and how much does that suck when it was only yesterday they were on the nipple and needing their goddamned Huggies changed and gazing up at us like we were the only true people on the planet and now look at them sitting here casually munching away, tingly with the anticipation of being on the cusp of something truly mind-bending and checking out the butt on that server and barely even remembering we're alive?! But instead of that, we talked about college and what we thought about the day and ultimately Ben decided not to scratch UK off his list.

And so we continue to shop.

Next week: Transy