We Agree on Paul Simon

I GREW up in a city. I went to a university in a different city. I wore high heels to classes. There may have been a few trees around; I never noticed. My daughter and son chose small colleges attached to leafy little towns. Her school is on the Minnesota plains. His is nestled in the Connecticut hills.

And so, after midwinter break, I drive my son back to college. That is to say, he drives. I accompany like a faithful servant who waters the horses after the journey.

We argue about which tapes to play. He vetoes Bach; I veto rap. ``Fight the Power'' is not what I want to hear in the company of this broad-shouldered baritone who, a mere 18 years ago, gazed bemusedly at the world over my shoulder.

We agree on Paul Simon.

He tells me about his math course, which investigates an other-worldly geometry where parallel lines converge. Riemann is the name of the fiend who invented it. He tells me about the girls who live across the hall. He tells me he may take a semester off; it might be instructive to work in a deli.

I studied poetry and philosophy, I wistfully reminisce. Boys were turned out of our dormitory at 10 o'clock. I got a degree so I wouldn't have to sling hash.

We stop in a picnic area and share a sandwich. We share also our opinions about family members, women's studies, and television. Our opinions fail to coincide. We return to the car.

Presently we enter the town which is home to his college. We see cupolas, gables, widows' walks, and a domed observatory. I think of Jude staring hungrily at the spires of Christminster, but I keep my mouth shut. He has never heard of Jude, and Thomas Hardy wouldn't be on the core curriculum even if there were a core curriculum.

We park near his dorm. He unpacks computer and baseball gear while I wander around. The tracks of other returnees make arabesques in the snow.

The library windows look out over a blue-gray valley, and a winding river, and a bridge. What appears to be a collection of smokestacks turns out to be the newest laboratory. What appears to be a middle-aged woman lost in thought is one, me. I am gazing bemusedly at his world, as if over his shoulder.

I am reconsidering the flexible curriculum, which gives room to everything but intellectual snobbery. I am wondering if the sight of boys in my dormitory hallways might have made the ones in my classrooms less terrifying. I am acknowledging that a stretch of menial work early in life might have unsmugged me. Mostly, I am experiencing the pleasure of a spacious campus, near a peaceable town, under trees.

I walk back to the car. He is waiting for me. We embrace as cautiously as if we were shaking hands; but in this reserved farewell there is the hint of future conversation.

On the way home, listening to a toccata, I take the wrong entrance to the turnpike. I am headed whimperingly toward the unruly west. There is no exit in sight. What's more, I have crossed the Brimfield town line three times. I am in a Riemannian world. What will save me?

I put Paul Simon back on the tape deck and the exit immediately appears, like a promise kept.

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