When I was a little boy, I used to love to play and imagine what I was going to be when I grew up. I would take my plastic dinosaurs outside, bury them in my backyard, and then dig them up, dreaming of the day I would be excavating real dinosaur bones in the scorching hot Sahara desert. I also wanted to grow up to be a veterinarian, or an elementary school teacher, or maybe even an architect, but reality turned out totally different.
"These kids are truly barbaric!” my mind screamed as I walked into the child-infested art room of the local middle school. Fifteen paper planes were flying, a rental clarinet was honking, and scissors-wielding 10–13-year-olds were zooming across the room, reminding me more of Brownian motion than of an academic institution. I was a first-year and eager to rocket into the upper ranks of the learned and distinguished. This was my hell.
Boy, did I feel stupid that chilly October day during my senior year of high school, sitting in the Career Development Office with two fellow classmates. Across the table, a very professional-looking Grinnell admission rep (completely at ease, unlike my heart-pounding self) chatted to us all about that small college in the cornfield state I’d never before visited.
And that feeling of stupidity wasn’t really put to ease by the fact that I was costumed for the day in an 18th-century frilly flannel nightgown purchased straight from the Felicity collection at American Girl.
I consider myself a pretty conservative dresser. My shorts are always mid-thigh or longer, my T-shirts cover my naughty parts in their entirety, and my swimsuit comes in only one piece. All in all, I tend to keep myself pretty well covered.
Unless it’s a Wednesday night in Burling. Because every Wednesday night after dinner, I participate in a magical event known as No Pants Wednesday.
The transition from small farms and backyard gardens to centralized agriculture has distanced us from our food. We no longer know who grows our food or how they grow it. This, in turn, distances us from our environment and community. Large-scale monocultures leave our soils vulnerable to erosion and let chemicals leach into our groundwater. Our reliance on prepared foods from grocery stores instead of whole foods from local farms weakens our local economy and our community’s health. This food system is unsustainable and harmful.
Being from a foreign country and knowing little about Iowa or the Midwest, I thought of Grinnell as a little campus in the middle of the tall prairie grass. Indeed, I chose to come here not only because I wanted the isolation and oneness with nature that Grinnell seemed to offer, but also because I desired a retreat where I could nurse my tired body while nourishing my hungry mind. I had a fantasy image of Grinnell as the perfect retreat center, where all was quiet and serene.
The year is 1984. The legal drinking age in Iowa rises to 21. The state’s largest vendor of beer, according to legend, loses three-quarters of its customers. Two years later, the Grinnell College campus pub closes.
As my parents helped me unload the station wagon and carry my belongings up four flights of stairs on that hot afternoon in late August, the realization that this was the place where I would spend the next four years only added to my excessive perspiration. College. I was about to embark on the adventure of roommates, late night cramming, and defining myself.
I never expected it to be a one-year stint.