There’s A Lot To A Name – Trust Me

Have you ever wished that your child had selected a different college to attend? My son Will is a freshman attending school in Pennsylvania and although the university is beautiful, perfect sized and an excellent academic fit, the actual name of the school is somewhat of a hurdle for parents to explain when chatting with friends and family.

Known in western Pennsylvania as “Cal U”, California University of Pennsylvania is not only a mouthful to utter, but confusing in a geographical sense.  Unless one has managed to skirt basic American geography through twelve years of primary and secondary schooling, the average U.S. citizen knows that California and Pennsylvania are not neighbors.

Unfortunately, when you say “Cal U” to anyone not born and bred in the greater Pittsburgh vicinity, their thoughts most likely wander to the west coast, to say Berkeley, California, home of University of California. So when describing where Will attends school, my partners in conversation usually look a bit confused, as if I am trying to give them driving directions in Turkish. Noticing the furled brows, squinting eyes, and a slight tilt of their heads, I begin a brief lesson in the landscape of western Pennsylvania. Despite my best efforts, most people lose interest when I begin drawings maps on a napkin.

Two weeks ago Janet and I visited the Cal U campus for parent’s day, with Will’s good friend Paul in tow. Loaded up with an assortment of groceries requested by our seemingly always hungry child, the three of us set out for the only region in the world which doesn’t need an explanation as to where Cal U is located. The toll ridden journey through West Virginia was scenic, but lengthy, as we arrived at our destination late in the evening.

On tap for the following morning were a visit to Will’s dorm room and a jaunt to the football stadium to watch Cal U’s undefeated team.  Will had not lived with a roommate since the second day of school, when Sam, his original roommate, required emergency appendectomy surgery following their first meal on campus.  Quite a commentary on the Cal U cuisine, I dare say.

Two days prior to our visit, Will was assigned another roommate, a young man named “Jerry” who’s constitution must have mirrored Wills in that he somehow managed to survive the cafeteria.  But that’s where any similarities stopped. I am not certain which set of criteria the school uses to match roommates, but after seeing the condition of Will’s domicile, the Neil Simon play “The Odd Couple” came immediately to mind.  Jerry, cast in the role of “Felix”, bunked in museum-like tidiness, his triumphant academic trophies from high school gracing his spotless bookshelf.  Proudly bringing life to the role of “Oscar” was my boy Will, who lives in the same kind of clothes-strewn squalor one might witness on CNN after a twister bowls over a small town. Wading through the pants and underwear on his side of the room, we were off to the stadium.

Cal U would be playing Loch Haven University in a divisional battle. Cal U’s sports nickname is the Vulcan’s, which naturally requires the same kind of lengthy explanation as the name Cal U. Vulcan, according to mythology, is the Roman God of Fire and not actor Leonard Nimoy in pointy ears. Who knew?  The Cal U mascot “Blaze” bears a strong resemblance to the Radford Highlander, although Blaze sports a toga instead of a kilt. Other than that one small difference they look as though they were separated at birth somewhere between Milan and Glasgow.

Poor Loch Haven did not stand a chance as Cal U pummeled them with thirty-eight unanswered points by halftime.  Following each score (and there were a lot of them) Blaze would produce a hammer from under his toga and pound out the number of points that had been scored, on his portable large anvil, as the fans counted along.  The final score was Cal U 58 Loch Haven 0.  Blaze, was exhausted and I strongly doubt that the “god of fire” could light half of my birthday candles following that gridiron drubbing.

Heading home, I must say that I enjoyed the trip and it was wonderful to see my son so happy in his new environment.  Still, I am no closer to finding a better elucidation to describe where Will attends school.  Heck, maybe I’ll just tell folks that he’s going to Harvard to make things simpler.  That’s in Massachusetts, right?

By Jon Kaufman
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