College is a peculiarly timeless place.
I don’t just mean timeless in the way that staying up all night writing that paper turns Tuesday into Wednesday without you even noticing; Nor the way that Facebook, the basement of Bass, or dancing at Modern Love suck hours from your life in a matter of minutes; Nor even the way that my alarm clock decides that the hours of 3 a.m. to 11 a.m. are not viable times to wake me up no matter what’s due when or how long I want to nap. No, I mean timeless in the larger sense. In the sense of freshmen thinking “we’ve been at Yale FOREVER” and of seniors thinking “I have to have a job by WHEN?” and of me thinking, as I walked into Walgreens Monday night at 2 a.m., “Easter? Spring? What? When did that happen?”
It was after a late rehearsal, and I was motivated by a strong desire to buy a large quantity of cheap snacks, cough medicine and toilet paper (we’ve been using tissues at my house for a while, now). I walked through the automatic doors and suddenly: BAM! Pastels everywhere. It looked like My Little Ponies had thrown up all over a double aisle and the register. It took me a full minute to remember that Easter had been the previous day. Admittedly, I have not set foot in a church since leaving my Presbyterian–Catholic–Southern Baptist homeland, but I hardly consider Easter a date exclusively for the devout.
And I realized, without frequent trips to places like Walgreens, I have no sense of season at Yale. OK, so Durfee’s has its sad little collection of themed Reese’s and plastic cups, but other than that and the tacky stickies on the windows of J.Crew and Urban, the Yale environment breaks down into paper deadlines rather than holidays. And given New Haven’s touchy weather, today could be September or May.
I exaggerate. When weeds begin to grow out of the fire escape and fruit flies become a problem again, when Blue Moon brews Summer Ale and sunglasses suddenly are more necessary than pants, I know it’s spring. In my hometown of Rock Hill, South Carolina, however, we have a much more clearly defined demarcation of season: the Come See Me Festival.
Every April, the whole town hosts “Come See Me.” (It’s a stupid name, we know — the tourism board made it up). The festival mascot is a giant frog called “Glen” dressed in seersucker. Glen has a froggy wife named Glenda who dresses like Bo Peep. Glen and Glenda are king and queen of the two weeks of charity auctions, street performances, pancake breakfasts, fireworks shows, concerts, pet competitions, road races, parking-lot dances, parades and sno-cone stands.
When I was 12, I wanted to be Glenda.
Auditions were in March, so I spent the month practicing waving and talking to children and walking like I imagined a giant frog would, which was something like a drunken, bow-legged sailor, if I recall correctly. Maybe it was that walk that did me in, or maybe I scared away the judges with my lime-green braces and lucky tie-dyed T-shirt, but whatever the reason, “Elizabeth” got to don the massive felt head with googly eyes and 6-inch eyelashes that year, not me. “Elizabeth” got to sit on the float and drink iced lemonade and be admired by all the children of the town for her froggy beauty and grace, not me.
Like all shunted performers, I turned critic. “She’s not being froggy,” I’d say to my little sister. “Look at her — she’s sitting! A frog would squat.” You see, I had failed to realize that theatrical realism and town fairs have very little in common. People laughed at me.
To salvage my dignity, I auditioned for the festival’s Junior Welfare League variety show, dragging my sister along for support. The panel of ladies asked us to sing and tap dance and look “sweet.” I thought I had Cinderella in the bag. But not so fast — the children’s act in the show was a musical number about vegetables. My sister was cast as the carrot, and I was the brussels sprout.
No 12-year-old wants to be told she’s like a brussels sprout. But rather than sulk, I owned that part. I even added extra foam balls to my costume so that it really filled out. I don’t remember the lyrics anymore, but I do remember thinking during the performance that brussels sprouts were just about the most important aspect of spring.
Next to Easter Bunnies, of course. And to this day, when I walk into a spring display — like the one at Walgreens Monday morning at 2 a.m. — I start thinking about brussels sprouts. Anyone up for a picnic?