Memories with Richard Bleil
Graduate school isn’t easy. It’s fun, but it isn’t easy. It’s a culture of sorts, where all of your friends are all working in the same building, and you all build a life with each other. Things are changing today, largely because some of the professors expected too much of their graduate students, such as one that I know that would arrive usually before seven in the morning and wouldn’t leave until about eight in the evening. This is fine, but his expectations for his graduate students were to be there before he arrives and stay until after he leaves. These kinds of hours used to be common for graduate students, but it’s not fair to have this as a requirement by the professor. As such, the students (nationally) sued for normal working hours, and they won.
In my day, graduate students typically worked those kinds of hours, not because they were required but because that building was where all of the action was. All of the students and professors were working on cutting-edge research, advances were being made every day, and its where the friends were. Some days, all of the graduate students would more or less simultaneously get cabin fever, so they might, as a group, abandon the building and go out to the field next to it, play tag football, and as a group just go right back into the building and their research.
I’ve never been good at socializing. My discipline was theoretical chemistry, a mathematically heavy and thereby intimidating discipline but I, too, would periodically go stir crazy. As such, there were days, maybe three or four days a year, that I would make it a point to just disappear.
I was living in Boston. The public transportation system, the “T”, could get me to Fenway Park, where the Red Sox would ALWAYS beg me just to help them practice for a few hours. No, of course that’s a lie, but I would go to the park, not for a game but because across from the park was a pizza joint where I would get a lobster and shrimp pizza. Then I’d head a little further up the road where I would be mugged and killed.
No, that’s a lie too. I never really felt uncomfortable there. But up the road was an old three-story warehouse. It had been abandoned, but the second floor had been leased out for a pool hall. You could get beer there, but no hard liquor, because it wasn’t a bar. It was a genuine, old-fashioned pool hall, not a bar with a couple of pool tables. In fact, as memory serves, it had somewhere around fifteen pool tables distributed throughout the floor. Filled with my lobster and shrimp pizza “blanco” (no red pizza sauce; it was more like an alfredo-based sauce), I would play pool, alone, for several hours.
Sadly, I always went alone. I’m thinking about these days because yesterday a friend suggested (and I blogged about it) that we go play pool. Much like drive-in theaters, I feel like the old-fashioned American Pool Hall is fading from the fabric of our society. I’ve tried to find other pool halls, but, again, they always seem to be either bars or sport bar themed restaurants that have a pay-by-game table jammed onto the floor, overly crowded to play comfortably in a room that’s too noisy to really be fun. My old pool hall (probably gone now since this was about thirty years ago) was one where you paid per hour, and you could play as many games as you could fit in. Because it had no hard liquor, people who wanted to play while drinking usually didn’t go.
It’s interesting how culture changes over time. The phone is not longer used for phone calls, but to text, something that kind of surprises me since texting takes more effort. Drive-in theaters were fading out but seem to be (thankfully) making a comeback. Arcade game halls are a thing of the past, replaced with household gaming systems.
Writing this, it strikes me that the common thread among all of them is isolationism. Theaters are also seeming to fade away thanks to movie streaming services which sometimes has movie releases simultaneously with theater releases. Sporting events are becoming cost prohibitive, so sports announcers will complain about the lack of support from crowds as fans who cannot afford the tickets are forced to watch from home. It feels as if we are all becoming more isolationist, as technology encourages us to stay at home rather than going out, but I’m going to end this blog now. I have a video sex appointment to keep.