Monday, February 16, 2004

No Vampire Jokes, Please
Last week, in a very special Oh, For God's Sake, I described our family visit to the University of Kentucky to examine its potential to provide our son Ben with a quality postsecondary education that -- you know -- has the great taste that won't fill him up and will never let him down. After touring UK, we thought it only sporting that we attend the open house at Lexington's private, liberal-arts institution of higher learning, Transylvania University.

Ben has gotten a propaganda mailing from Transy almost every day so we figured they would not play hard to get and we were right. Fearing a new avalanche of mail, we chose not to register in advance for the open house, but to merely show up instead. It started at 9 a.m., so we arrived promptly at 10:30. Five hours of an open house is too much of an open house, we all agreed.

Unable to sneak past the security-checkpoint spokesbabes, we signed in and pretended to have no idea why our name wasn't on the list. Predictably, they added our names (The Heines, from Assville) to the list lickety split. They then directed us to the gymnasium, where a gaggle of professors was extolling the virtues of the college. We listened in on this for a few minutes, when they redirected everybody across the street to a convention-style room, where each school in the college had a booth set up. So we'd timed it perfectly, missing a hearty chunk of the Why-our-school-is-better-than-sex-and-Milanos-combined speeches.

We visited a few booths and talked to several current Transy students, extremely good-looking kids each and every one [Note for future research: does being rich somehow make people better looking or is it simply easier for good-looking people to become rich?] and got a pretty good feel for the curriculum and the careers Transy is well-suited to prepare Ben for, such as Philosopher-King, Renaissance Poet, or possibly Robber Baron.

Because we'd arrived late, we were assigned to the last group to depart for a walking tour of the campus. So we hid our color-coded papers inside our marketing brochures and snuck into the first tour group that was getting ready to depart.

Leading our tour was a shiny, slightly skinnier Monica Lewinsky look-alike named Lauryn, decked out in a petal-pink jacket and impossibly high-heeled fuck-me shoes, and a goofy but charming fellow named Brandt, who wore a leather Kenneth Cole New York Hipster jacket. Lauryn was obviously nervous and talked way too fast, but Brandt calmly chimed in whenever Lauryn lost her place (which was fairly often).

Lauryn was good for pointing out some of the quirkier aspects of Transy, while Brandt spoke more of conceptual things. He pointed out that Transy, unlike larger state schools in the vicinity (that suck and shall remain nameless, but whose initials are UK), provides its students with a well-rounded liberal-arts education, which teaches kids to think deeply and profoundly. One glance at Lauryn seemed to bear this out. Clearly, she had thought deeply and profoundly about such ultimate questions as: Is the shampoo you buy at a salon really better than the shampoo you buy at Walgreen's?

Transy actually has quite a history. It was the first college west of the Alleghenies and has dorms named after Henry Clay and Jefferson Davis. Brandt mentioned these two statesmen as if they were contemporaries and completely ignored the fact that Davis' claim to fame was defending the South's right to slavery, probably an issue that rarely comes up at Transy, considering there was not a soul in sight who was anything but lily white. The ever-bubbly Lauryn cheerfully pointed out that a duel had once been fought on campus and shivered visibly at the thought. It was a dramatic performance that brought tears to the eyes of those of us who were trying hard not to laugh.

Transy's campus is gorgeous. It's extremely small – about four city blocks in all – with one handsome brick building after another and huge old-growth trees. Lauryn told a charming story about a tree on campus that used to be known as the "Kissing Tree" in the days of panty raids, back before coed dorms. She sadly noted that they no longer call the tree that and I quietly speculated to Mary and Ben that nowadays they probably call it the "Oral Sex Tree," which got me a look of admonishment from Mary and a spit-take from Ben.

Unlike UK, Transy led us into an actual classroom and it was very impressive. The whole campus is wireless and the desks (left-handed ones available!) all have T1 lines so you can plug in your notebook computer. The windows have blinds you can close with a remote control (goofy, I know, but I was intrigued) and all the rooms have high-tech audiovisual equipment. For being older than Deuteronomy, Transy is very high tech.

We toured several academic buildings, a dorm (a little nicer than UK's but not much), the library (a big disappointment after touring UK's, but anything would be), and several other buildings. At one point, Lauryn gave a rather creepy speech about the police on campus, which I'm sure was supposed to give parents a sense of security but scared the crap out of us instead, with her talk of weapons and brute force. When she proudly read off a list of weapons the Transy rent-a-cops might employ in the event of an Orange Alert, Ben glanced at me, trying hard to squeeze in the laughter.

After the tour, we were directed to the cafeteria, where a complimentary lunch was underway, to be followed by a ball-squeezing Amway session in which parents and students would be separated. Deploying the family serpentine pattern, we made our escape, darted for the car and drove the hell out of Lexington, spraying mud all over the pursuing Lauryn's petal pink jacket. Soon, the infinite four-board fences of the horse farms flew past us and we got lost in our thoughts, which were dominated by denial. Denial that Ben was going to move away from home; denial that having Transylvania on one's resume would lead to a bunch of Dracula jokes; denial that you really do get what you pay for.

All in all, Ben was about equally impressed with UK and Transy. Choosing between them is sort of like choosing whether to live in a big city or a small town, with distinct advantages to both. While UK is big, it offers a lot of advantages (that killer library; a wider diversity of people, thought, and resources; students with nicknames other than "Biff" or "Buffy;" fewer yachts parked in the student lot; and so on.). Likewise, while being tiny, Transy offers a very collegial experience, much better attention from teachers, an overall more challenging classroom experience, and expert advice on how to jut one's jaw while chewing the butler a new one.

In the end, the tours were very helpful, as Ben was finally able to decide which school was perfect for him: Murray State.