It’s an old joke, one that resurfaces occasionally whenever the Cougars play the Huskies for State Apple Cup bragging rights (and much more than that this year), but it brought back memories of my first ever attempt as a freshman to navigate the UW Seattle campus.
“Bubba had been attending WSU for 6 years and still did not have enough credits to graduate. At the commencement ceremony, the entire student body began chanting, ‘Let Bubba graduate, Let Bubba graduate! The Pullman president decided that if Bubba could answer a one question exam, he would graduate. The president said, ‘You have one chance Bubba: what is 9×9?’ Bubba beamed and blurted out 81. A stunned silence followed. Then the whole crowd yelled, ‘Give him another chance! Give him another chance!’ (from “The World’s Largest Collection of Cougar Jokes,” compiled by John Berkowitz)
Like a Husky (trying to be fair and balanced here) who cannot find the end zone, let alone the red zone, given his comfort zone (“A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible”) is loitering near the Cougar bench “before returning to their own bench after drives in order to get a quick blast from the heaters” which are disallowed by tough-minded UW Coach Chris Petersen in his team’s area, or so the story goes, that was me.
I was lost.
But I had plenty of good reasons to be.
With over 500 buildings, occupying over 20,000,000 million (as in million) square feet, the University of Washington was, to me, during Orientation Days, as foreign as the Orient and I as forlorn a freshman as was ever admitted on campus.
I almost went back home like I did the first day of Kindergarten but home then was all of two blocks.
This day, about to become a dawg in the Husky family, I felt more like a rat in a maze than a dawg in the uwdawgpound; more like a man abandoned by his wife in a shopping mall on Christmas Eve and who forgot where he parked the car.
In other words, a freshman.
When the U-dub, as it later became known, closed in 1863 it was for lack of attendees. That was not the problem in 1968 when I wandered about with the 34,000 others that were responsible for the tremendous growth of students that made up “the golden age.”
The problem was not remembering names – anybody’s name, sometimes even your own name for they never asked for your name anyway but rather for your seven-digit identifying number (I still remember mine) – but rather the problem was orienting where you were in respect to where everything else was.
Fortunately, they had anticipated that problem and had erected these handy map locators – pre-Google Maps apps “for your iPhone and iPad making navigating your world faster and easier.”
These were pre-app days, way pre-app days.
The problem with these actual, physical, visual, tangible, graspable enlarged maps placed on pedestals and located in many, many places among the many, many buildings was that they had been recently varnished.
Or at least the one this freshman found was.
I laid my small version map down on the big campus map which differed from mine in that the pedestal version was not only very much larger, but it had a helpful “You Are Here” designation which would have been even more helpful had it not been recently varnished. As it was, I made the appropriate mark on my map and turned to continue my journey but my map tore being stuck as it was to the varnished version.
For all I know, these many years later, it may still be there (I never looked back nor went that way again) – a memento, a monument, a reminder to all passers-by:
Of why freshmen are called freshmen.
And of why we need second chances.