It took me a while to get over the shock of my expulsion from Norman College. There was no place for me to go but home, where there was the strong potential for matricide. I could not envision an academic future. As far as I knew, based on the pronouncements of Sarah, no college would accept me with the words “disciplinary expulsion” on my transcript. I certainly had no money and no hope for money other than whatever I could earn from whatever job I could find in Lakeland and my expectations were low in the job-hunting department, given my now-blackened academic record.
Throughout my senior year in high school and my year at Norman, Roy had been begging me to come to FSU, if at all possible. I had only ended up at Norman because my car accident after high school had precluded my going to FSU so, should I manage to get back to college, no alternative to FSU had ever occurred to me. Some sense of my perceived need to follow Roy can be gleaned from the following highly prophetic journal entry written after my expulsion from FSU:
My abortive year at Norman College is an experience far to complicated in a grotesque sort of way to be here recorded. It sufficed to teach me the treachery of Christians—something I had strongly suspected but not appreciated the fullness of before, the value of true friends and the uses of alcohol, among other things. It drove out the last vestige of religious feeling and childish idealism I may have had—well, I won’t say the very last vestige of idealism. I will have to say all but the last vestige.
However, my experience at Norman did highlight dramatically a fact I could no longer deny and that is that people are very similar in their philosophies and attitudes, in spite of the fact that they all believe themselves to be so different. They all fit in so well with each other. They have all these yardsticks and arbitrary standards by which they measure and judge each other.
But, some people, maybe one in a thousand, (though I must confess there are actually more than I thought) who seem to somehow evade most of the yardsticks. Not that they are evil or harmful, any more than anyone else, but that they are more alive, more broadminded, more creative. They see more and think more. And there are other qualities I can’t define. Their importance to me is that they recognize each other, which means they recognize me, in most cases, within the first few minutes of conversation. The contrast between the way these people react to me and the way most people react to me is striking.
I am immediately disliked, criticized and rejected by the average person, unless I am putting on one of my award-winning dramatic performances. Even then, the average person cannot conceal the dislike I inspire in them. Cain, with Satan’s mark upon his forehead, seems to have had nothing on me. But when, once in a great while, I meet one of my kind, I am instantly liked, encouraged, helped, understood and supported.
The value of this discovery is unknown to me as yet. But, I instinctively try to keep in touch with those of my own breed whom I do meet. Roy and Bonnie, others I met in Tally, and my beloved Mr. Chesson, without whose presence I would have found my adolescence even more hellish than it was.* Somehow, I must stay in contact with these people. They let me know I am not fighting the world all alone. They, too, are fighting. For what, I cannot exactly say in one word, unless that one word is justice.
Actually, fighting is not what I want to do. I seem to want to live it. I think that my way of life would be a good one in general practice. The disadvantages it presents appear to derive mainly from its uniqueness. I want to find a place where I can make my contribution to the world while enjoying the companionship of this group of people. I know I can do more than most people. I can learn and accomplish more and I want to do it. But, I don’t want to do it alone.
And, I don’t want to be held in. By family, society, petty rules, by anything. The only laws I want to observe are those that ease the friction between people and are clearly necessary. I don’t want to be interfered with if I am not harming someone else.
*In later years when I, myself, taught high school, one of my greatest moments was when a student said the same of me.
It reads now almost like a hippie manifesto, as well as an indication that I was thinking in sociological terms long before I took my first anthropology course. I can forgive myself the tautologies involved, since I was not yet aware of tautologies. Although it post-dates my time in Tallahassee, it describes well the social factors that combined with my academic aspirations to draw me there. The dream of living and working among people like those I had met on those stolen weekends in Tallahassee during my year at Norman now seemed lost to me forever, since, as far as I could tell, I would never be returning to any college.
However, I was not in Lakeland long before my brother came through on his way to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to work as a waiter for his tuition the following year at the University of Florida. To my complete surprise, he offered to take me with him so that I could also work that summer for the funds to enable me to go to FSU, should I succeed in getting reinstated at Norman college and accepted at FSU.
I much later realized that my brother’s invitation was, more than likely, due to some intervention from my father, who, we may assume, did not look forward to an indeterminate time of playing referee between me and my mother. Chances are good that he offered Jack my half of the gas money to get to New Jersey if he would take me with him. It is hard to imagine, realistically, that Jack would ever have volunteered for teenager rescue duty. That my father had any interest in my college education is unlikely, but it was probably worth it to him to get me out of the house. If that is what happened, I assume I was not told about the money because I might have spilled those beans to my mother and she would have objected strenuously to any financial investment in me, given the disgrace of my expulsion from the Bible college, after which event she had clearly written me off.
Finding a job in Atlantic City proved incredibly easy. I stayed in the hotel where my brother and his wife were staying, after receiving the somewhat facetious instruction that we would all ignore each other for the duration, although I did have permission to listen to Jack’s record player in their room when they were out. My years of experience as a waitress in high school and my cachet as an exotic southerner stood me in good stead. After a week or two, I was routinely given the best station in the restaurant and built up a following of satisfied return customers. One old couple always asked for “the lady,” meaning me, so successful was my cover. I had no compunctions about exaggerating my modest accent for the entertainment of my customers, who rewarded entertaining waitresses with bigger tips. I figured it was compensation enough for the general prejudice against Southerners I encountered everywhere else.
I worked for a very sweet Jewish couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sindy, at Sindy’s Restaurant, across the street from what may have been the largest Catholic Church in Atlantic City, at least the largest near the boardwalk. On Sundays, lines formed outside Sindy’s after every mass and there were several masses every Sunday. I worked 10 to 12 hours a day, often split shifts, and was on my feet every single minute, but I made an enormous amount of money in tips, almost enough to pay for my expenses at FSU, in combination with what I earned by working half-time after I got there. Mr. Sindy delighted in hiding himself just inside the pantry door, then leaning out suddenly and making faces at the waitresses as they came in, probably frantically busy, through the kitchen door. Although I imagine he did it for his own amusement, the laugh it always brought on helped keep us all on an even keel. It looked much like the picture below, only sideways.
The sudden change in location brought on a case of culture shock greater than I would have expected, had I known about culture shock at the time. I had not been out of the South since I was five. I had just spent a year in the deepest depths of the South. I could barely understand some of my customers, speaking with a thick New Jersey accent, and I established myself as a dumb Southerner at Sindy’s early on by having to ask what in the hell a “soft-berled egg” was. I had never even heard of a soft-boiled egg, let alone a soft-berled one, and was quite disgusted when it was explained to me. When I asked, in my Southern accent, how to serve “ahs tea,” the entire kitchen cracked up.
There were bagels everywhere in restaurant windows, including the restaurant where I worked, and I dared not ask any strangers what they were. My Jewish sister-in-law could not contain her amusement when I finally gave up and asked her. Chopped chicken liver appetizers—it might have been ground dragon claws, for all I knew. And, the drinking that went on surpassed anything I had experienced to date. Having been raised in a home run by a churchy tee-totaller, who forbade even beer in the house, and having only begun my drinking education at the Bible college, I was amazed at the amount of drinking going on all around me. At my hotel, in which resided both poor students working and rich students playing, loud parties went on all night and there was no stopping them. Since the players in my hotel saw me as a bit of a challenge in this regard, I had to step lively to avoid being manipulated into drinking too much myself and, on two memorable occasions which served as severe lessons to me, I was unsuccessful in doing so.
I spent the summer bewildered, exhausted and sleep-deprived. Grueling is a word that comes to mind. Since everyone working in Atlantic City was tied into an economic cycle that depended entirely on what could be made in the summer, and the goal of visitors was to squeeze as much joy as possible out of their weekend or two-week vacation, there was a pervasive air of frenzy that was in no way conducive to the healing I needed after my travails in Georgia. When not working, I walked the boardwalk like everyone else, but the only human connection I made, in the midst of what seemed to me to be almost a foreign land, was to Mike, the man who became my first husband.
Having grown up in Florida, I was not at all impressed by the beach, which was composed of fine, dirty sand very unlike the beautiful coral sands I was used to and, anyway, I could only go there during the split in my split-shifts. And yet, in spite of my social isolation and all the hard work, my time in Atlantic City, in addition to teaching me what real Italian spaghetti tasted like, went a long way toward convincing me that I could survive outside the South, that getting expelled from a dinky junior college in the Georgia backwoods was not necessarily the end of the world, and, importantly, that living on my own with no parents, siblings, preachers or dorm mothers examining my every move felt pretty damn good. I suspect my father of also having this motive in sending me along with my brother to the North—that my experiencing, re-experiencing, independence was just what I needed.
During that summer, I persuaded Dr. Guy to reinstate me at Norman College and to remove the words “disciplinary expulsion” from my transcript, which had not yet been sent to FSU. He made me promise to never come back, a promise I found it quite easy to make. Since that had been pretty much our deal when I left, it was not hard to get him to actually do it, although he did require me to come up with some letters of reference attesting to my basically sound character and potential for good before he would hold up his end of the bargain. Mr. Chesson, never wavering in his faith in me, was glad to oblige. My former pastor was more reluctant but came through in the end. When I left Atlantic City, my confidence had begun to return and I looked forward to joining Roy and his friends in Tally.
I left Atlantic City at the end of the summer feeling that perhaps I was back on track regarding college, but having acquired a new variable. Mike, after failing to persuade me to move to Philly, where he was a student at the University of Pennsylvania, had persuaded me to at least accept his fraternity pin. I had never even heard of “pinning,” and had only his explanation that it was somewhere between going steady and being engaged. I had, as yet, no sense at all of just how uncool it was and if I had, I would have put up more resistance. I had grown very fond of Mike, and in spite of the draconian laws in Atlantic City intended to prevent it, we had somehow managed to become lovers. I took the pin because I could not bear to hurt him by rejecting it, but I knew that when I got to Tally nothing as tiny as a frat pin would be enough to limit or confine me, either sexually or socially, and explained this fully and carefully to Mike, who said, “I understand.”
© Jentri Anders, 2016