In retrospect, I did not handle my college rejection letter well. I only applied to the local state university, and when I was denied, my dreams of college went up in smoke. Plenty of my friends weren’t accepted to their first choice and they were equally distraught, but in a different way. Their general mood was that they were failures who had not worked hard enough or burned bright enough to earn the right to attend their chosen ivory tower of academia. For me it wasn’t despondency, it was fury.
You see, I had bought into the lie that I had been told my whole life; the lie that I was special. Not only was I not special, I wasn’t even that smart. I certainly wasn’t well rounded. I’d spent most of my free time memorizing box scores instead of building houses for poor people so I could pad my college application. My life was a portrait of mediocrity past, present, and most likely future, but in that moment, standing barefoot on my driveway, holding my rejection letter, feeling the saliva collecting at the corners of my mouth like it does when you’re in a fight you know is already won; I had an epiphany. They had wronged me and now I was going to wrong them. I would use the spartan tools at my disposal: anger and motivation.
The focus of my crusade was easily identified. He was Jon Cesena, the dean of Admissions. This was the top guy in an obviously corrupt department that had ruined my life. I took to the web in search of the camel’s nose that would help me shoe horn my way into his life. Google was first, then Myspace and Facebook. If phony platitudes and self congratulatory crap awards were water, this guy could be King Neptune. It was like picking through an academic sewage pit, but it was all worth it when I gleaned my prize. His Facebook page was filled with shots of the erstwhile dean posing in various collegiate settings e.g. the library, a lecture hall, a reception with a bunch of swells. One shot, though, was of him shaking hands with some egg head professor type. I wasn’t interested in the who, but the where. They were on a golf course in front of a clubhouse.
In my first three years of high school (there were only four), I caddied at a country club (a fact I dutifully listed on my college application). My buddy’s old man was a big shot there, so he set me up with a job and introduced me around to the hoi polloi. One of the guy’s I became tight with was Billy Stretton, the HR/ Member Services guru. Billy never laughed at a joke and could tell you where every blade of grass belonged. At first, his uptight nature put me off, but I learned to appreciate his dedication to the job. He wasn’t interested in getting ahead off anyone’s back; he only wanted you to do right by the club. His job included deciding who to allow into the club and who to kick out (paying dues late was a sure way to the exit). There were a few nights I sat with him while he agonized over a member’s status in his office. His office in the club house. The club house Dean Cesena was glad handing in front of on Facebook.
Late Tuesday night, and I’m sitting in Billy’s office catching up on life. After a bit, I come right to the point. Some of the caddies had been bragging to me about how one of the members had been selling some primo bud (pot) at a screamin’ price. Billy immediately wanted to know the caddies and the name of the member. I protested. Protecting my friends’ confidence was a matter of honor, and you could never prove this guy was selling the loco weed. Billy reminded me that a member’s contract allows the club to vacate membership without cause (oh yeah, I’d forgotten that I did), besides, selling drugs is wrong. After such mighty arm twisting, I gave up Dean Cesena’s name. Billy swiveled over to his computer and punched in the name of the reefer madman.
“Jon Cesena is not a member of the club” said Billy with heartbreaking matter of factness.
Dammit, I’m an idiot. A jackass who thought he had a plan that went nowhere like his whole life.
“He was playing as a guest of his girlfriend. I’m sending her a termination letter tomorrow.”
Sweet Jesus, I’m a genius.
The mighty dean didn’t mention his girlfriend in all his public braggadocio. There probably wasn’t room in his life for two people. Needless to say, I was pleased with my victory at the country club, but the termination letter was only a small part of it. When Billy typed in Dean Cesena’s name, his girlfriend’s info popped up. Over Billy’s shoulder I was able to read her name and address, which is how I wound up on the doorstep of one Margaret Willingham.
When Ms. Willingham answered the door, I asked to see Jon Cesena. She informed me that he was at work (if only I’d known that). Quietly and sadly, I explained to Ms. Willingham that I was one of Dean Cesena’s illegitimate children. My name was Who, so named because Dean Cesena insisted on naming all his spawn after the music that was playing during the moment of conception. I had been able to track down some of my siblings: Chumbawamba and Sammy Davis III, but I had yet to meet my progenitor. Ms. Willingham seemed truly touched. Was there anything she could do? Did I need a shoulder to cry on? Did Jon’s ex-wife know?
Ex-wife? The dean had an ex-wife.
Ms. Willingham didn’t know or wouldn’t tell me where ex-Mrs. Dean Cesena lived, but she told me where she worked which is why I was sitting in the lobby of an insurance company on a perfectly good afternoon. When the elevator doors opened and ex-Mrs. Dean Cesena stepped out I quickly noticed that her face lacked a crucial element. What is that word the French use? Oh yeah, kindness.
Ex-Mrs. Dean Cesena didn’t know who I was and already she wasn’t pleased to see me. I introduced myself as Roofies, a runner for Dean Cesena’s bookie. I had a hot tip for the dean, but I couldn’t find him. Could she help me track down her former lover so he could place his wager before post time?
Ex-Mrs. Dean Cesena had a lot to offer, mostly profane and between clenched teeth. She happened to mention that the dean had just begged a cut in his alimony from a softy judge because he couldn’t keep up.
“That’s funny.” said I “The ponies never have any trouble getting his money.”
Ex-Mrs. Dean Cesena didn’t send the dean a letter. She let her lawyer do it.
The ex may have lacked some of the finer points, like humanity, but she wasn’t above repaying a tip. In that spirit, she clued me in to the dean’s favorite haunt, a café near campus called Belshazzar’s Feast. Soon I found myself applying there for a job as a waiter, but without experience the management would only offer a bus boy position. I grabbed it with gratitude and started immediately.
Hours later my dedication paid off when Dean Cesena himself entered the café. His pictures did him too much justice. I wondered if our eyes would meet and he would see the slow burn of a nemesis, but our eyes did not meet that day or on any of the many days of the many months I worked at Belshazzar’s Feast. Dean Cesena didn’t make eye contact with anybody. He was too busy checking his iPhone, emailing on his iPad, and leading his iLife. When you asked him if he wanted another hot tea, he’d just push the saucer toward you without looking up. No “please.” No “thank-you.” His was a palpable irrational arrogance.
My toil as a bus boy lasted longer than expected, but by exceeding the boss’ expectations and learning all I could from the wait staff, I was able to finally snag the job I craved. Now that I was a full fledged waiter, I only had to bide my time. Unfortunately, it seemed that time would never come because even with Dean Cesena’s sterling attendance, he never seemed to be seated in my section. A thought crossed that he was toying with me, but that seemed too elegant a scheme for such a damn tool. So I waited, and one day it happened. I came out of the kitchen and the dean was seated at one of my tables. I received the usual no eye contact. He had excellent service, showed no appreciation, and left a disgraceful tip. Still, I had what I wanted. As soon as he placed his credit card on the table, I had what I wanted. As soon as I picked up his card and saw those beautiful numbers, I had what I wanted.
I know some of you must think I had come unhinged, but there was only one thought in my mind. This guy had altered the course of my life and all I got was a form letter.
One idea that did continually churn in my soul was the difference between the refined and the carnal. Refined activities like high tea, debates, and baseball have a defined beginning and end. Carnal pursuits like lust, war, and revenge feed upon themselves. I thought on this quite often.
During my many months at Belshazzar’s Feast, I expanded my mind with more than learning how to fold napkins. Gossip has always been one of my favorite activities, and I found a compatriot in Luria, the senior waitress on the staff. Luria loved to talk about the customers, and I loved to listen. One day, Dean Cesena was the topic of conversation, and I piped up that he spent more time in the café than we did.
“Except when he takes his week in Mexico” Luria informed me.
Mexico? Yes, Dean Cesena went to Tampico, Mexico every year for a week. I’d never heard of Tampico, but since I have a thirst for knowledge, I decided to learn all about it. My research led me to believe Tampico is a bit of an industrial pit, however, I did find one very interesting place with a little web surfing, emails, and a few phone calls.
There is an establishment that bills itself as a pharmacy. Unlike boring American pharmacies with their collections of medicines and toothpaste, the Tampico pharmacy was a bit more open-minded. They stocked medicinal drinking alcohol (moonshine), East German cigarettes (I didn’t think that was a country anymore), and ammunition. What really caught my eye was their selection of Spanish Fly. They had a few nice choices, but the premium one was sold under the brand name Harlow’s Panties. I contacted the pharmacy and told them I was from America and interested in buying some of their amorous treasures. Something like five cases. The proprietor, Señor Tankerslaw, was ecstatic.
“Who am I speaking to because you are my new best friend?” he queried in just fine English.
“Jon Cesena, but just call me Jonni,” I replied in equally clear English.
During this same time period I became intrigued with massage parlors. Not the swank spot your momma goes after a tennis match, but the Happy Ending types of places. I searched all over the country (it’s amazing how a drawing of a smiling face next to a thumbs up gets the point across) and collected the telephone numbers of a few, somewhere in the neighborhood of 150.
Meanwhile, I kept working at the café. The time dragged with anticipation until I noticed one rainy day that someone had become conspicuous by his absence. When I inquired to Luria, she confirmed my hope: Dean Cesena was in Tampico for the week. After work I went home and put the wheel in motion.
My first call was to Señor Tankerslaw in Tampico.
“Hello Jonni! How are you my brother? Are you ready for your piñata of pleasure?”
I told my amigo that I was ready and gave him Dean Cesena’s credit card number and billing address. Then Señor Tankerslaw asked for the shipping address. I didn’t want to send the package to the admissions office because they were snowed under with all those applications waiting to be rejected. Instead, I sent it to Professor Dara Castrabalz, the head of the Women’s Studies Department.
“Tankerslaw, my muchacho, just make sure to put both our names on the shipment so my partner, Dara, will open the boxes when they arrive.”
The señor confirmed my instructions and I moved on to my masseuse phone book. I only called after hours so I could leave a little sales pitch on their answering machines or voice mail (thank-you disposable cell phones). I started on the east coast and worked my way to the west coast. I told them my name was Jon Cesena and I was a Spanish Fly distributor. I thought their select clientele might enjoy my product (they call this up selling in the retail world), and offered them a generous price. They needed to call me as soon as possible so I could put their Harlow’s Panties in the mail ASAP. I didn’t have Dean Cesena’s cell phone number so I left the one from the admissions office. The dean was out of town, but I knew his secretary wouldn’t mind taking a few messages.
And that was that with that. By the way, did you know that distributing Spanish Fly without a license is illegal? Interesting.
Dean Cesena came back from Mexico, but I only saw him at Belshazzar’s Feast once. Luria said there was some sort of kurfuffle in the admissions office. Then she said Dean Cesena wasn’t Dean Cesena anymore. He had voluntarily resigned to pursue other interests, or spend more time with his family, or travel the world. Bye-bye.
So now you want to know if, with hindsight, I think I did the right thing by putting salt on the dean’s tail. The answer is “no.” Not because he wasn’t an arrogant unaccountable tin horn. He was. The truth is that Dean Cesena made the right decision. My application deserved to be rejected. I never would have made it through four years of college. I never finish what I start.