Penguin Opus, as I’ll always think of him, as been a staple of my personal library, narrative, culture and literature since the early 1980s when I was a blond, pre-bald, pre-gayboy of 19 as a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, too, is a staple of my own history and no matter the fact that I didn’t grow up there nor have I lived there since 1992, it will always be a part of my general disposition as a comforting presence. Same with Penguin Opus.
Today I took a ride down to Stanford University with Juhr today, mainly because I rely too much on the intarwebs and text-messaging in my interactions with him and this was an opportunity to hang out for a while. As a (distant second) side-benefit, it got me out of the house.
I found myself mentioning to Juhr that I’d become a Body Thief in a heartbeat to switch out with any of the students there, a chance to live that kind of life again and, frankly, get another chance to “do it all over”. Of course I kid. I’d never steal away, intentionally and maliciously, the life of another nor do I have major regrets in these 43+ years. I was musing; it was a beautiful day; Stanford is a beautiful campus.
Juhr was comparing the general apparent happiness of students at Stanford to the students of MIT in the early 1990s and I found myself chiming in on how the students were in mid-1980s Carnegie Mellon. Juhr’s take: MIT students worked very hard for very long hours and spent little time on relaxing or athletic activities. And that they were largely solo artists, rarely collaborating or helping each other learn. At CMU, I told him, students were also fairly solo. They made overtures to work on problem sets together, but overall it was a behind-the-scenes cut-throat affair where not only good grades were sought, but the best grades. So it wasn’t good enough to excel in absolute terms, you had to rise to the top of each class.
Needless to say, I wasn’t competitive. I just didn’t have it in me. First of all, I had no discipline; I had no study “skills” because I never had to study before CMU. I was expecting 13th grade and boy was I surprised. I didn’t do all that well, but I did manage to switch majors from EE to Biological Sciences and still graduate in four years. And that, apparently, was something.
But I learned. Even on tests I remember not being very successful on, I remember the material on many of those tests from so long ago. I can’t tell you the last time I remember applying physical biochemistry (e.g., calculate the flow through a cell membrane given osmotic and ionic pressures x and y on each side; describe the rate of decay of fluorescence across a given cellular surface), but I remember the notions behind many of the principles.
Do I wish I’d had a better record to present to whomever these days? Not really. It never hurt me. Having escaped from CMU with a degree and the attitude, “I don’t know much about
That seems to work.
I also didn’t have much of a political posture then; I didn’t have much of an attitude about gay rights, but that’s mainly because the closet precludes you from supporting equality and your own ethics prevent you from opposing. In any event, it was always better to fade into the background when the gays were mentioned.
We all agreed, back then, that the pantheon of characters that Berkeley Breathed created in Bloom County was nothing short of magical. I learned from him that being wry didn’t mean you had to be mean. That no matter what was wrong with the world, you could always find time to laugh good-naturedly: Laughter restores balance.
So I’ve been thrilled, of course, that Breathed is back (and has been back for weeks) in Salon.com. I see Opus and I smile before I even read it. I read each week’s ‘toon slowly, to savor it. Then I read it again and again.
Somewhere among the hundreds of books stacked in shelves against and entire wall of my house are more than half a dozen compilations of daily comic strips. I think I’m going to go dig them out.
While I watch Bill Maher.