Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)

Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)
"A curious and wonderful work of great human value by a Danish master." Sebastian Barry, Man Booker finalist (Click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon page)

Friday, November 16, 2007

Cal State Fullerton: Crawling Down Memory Lane, Smog and All

The theatre department at Cal State Fulleron. When you're nostalgic even a hallway can become a temple of worship.


They're all dead.

All my professors have passed. One died in a bathroom, another moved to Utah. I'm not sure there's much of a difference.

I'm standing on the Cal State Fullerton campus. I graduated here twenty five years ago with a B.A. in play writing. Then I went back to Denmark for twenty two years. God, it's a strange feeling being back. Half the campus looks the same, the other half is new. Most of the smog has gone. In the early eighties the mountains were just a rumor. Now you can actually see them. Once a week, that is.

I walk through the theatre department. It looks the same, but the wrong people come out of the doors: Kids with cell phones, PCs, iPods. None of those things existed back then. The only thing we had was chlamydia.

I'm meeting up with the only professor who was around when I was at Fullerton. (Yes, I lied. One is still around). His name is Joe Arnold. A wonderful warm man who invites me to lunch at the Titan Union. They have a courtyard now. And Chinese food. Back in my days, the only food was grilled cheese.

Joe Arnold and I take a walk down memory lane. It's great hearing about the class of 82: Two alumni have had parts on Broadway, one started an acting studio, a few have become drug addicts. And worst of all, one works in an insurance company. God, life can be cruel.

We also badmouth a few people, or I do. Joe Arnold is way too nice to do a thing like that. He even shows me the new Performing Arts Building. What a gorgeous place. It must be great to be a theatre major at Cal State today, but then again it was great in the eighties. Everybody dreamed of Hollywood, sending off pretentious resumes to agents who didn't exist. Oh yes, those were the days when fame only was a blow job away.

Joe Arnold in his office, sweet and helpful as ever.


I walk through Nutwood Apartments on the other side of the street. I lived here from 1979 to 1982, probably in G-10 and G-21. I feel like knocking on the door and telling the tenants to get the hell out. But I have too much class. I just stare through the windows and go through their garbage.

Talking about garbage, I was International Student of The Year in 1982. I got the prize because I was the first student ever to have a full length play produced. It was called As Safe As Central Park. I received the prize from the president of the university during graduation. It was a great moment in my life. An even greater moment arrived when I discovered I had thrown out the prize. In the middle of the night, I went down to the trash container and spend an hour looking for my 200 dollar check. Luckily, money doesn't smell, but I sure did.

The Nutwood Apartments at sunset.


It's bittersweet being back in Fullerton. It's always bittersweet having a good memory. I knew so many great people. Actually, I should have forgotten them because I drank like a pig back then. But now memories grow out of campus - out of the lawns, the bowling alleys, and the Quad with its benches: Sweet love affairs, betrayal by a "friend", my three plays in the department. I remember I gave a cocky interview to The Daily Titan and when I read it, I thought: "My God, what a jerk."

When I walk through campus for the third time, I feel happy and sad. Those were great times but I'm much happier today. Life is better at 51 than it was at 25. I got the career I wanted, I have a pale girlfriend, I'm a nomad travelling the world. Who needs a 400 dollar haircut, anyway?

Adleane and your bloghead. I'm drinking ice tea.


My last evening in town I meet up with my best friend from my senior year, Adleane. Adleane is one of those rare women who look better at 57 than she did when she was 30. How does she do it? Diets? Power yoga? Plastic surgery? None of the above. Maybe it's just because she's a beautiful soul with good genes and a craving for Chicken Tikka Masala. The latter we definitely have in common.

"You look great," Adleane tells me after her first and only drink. I smile politely. Americans always say you look great, even if you have become as obese as Orson Welles. We spend the evening talking about this and that, finishing off a Palak Paneer and the last nanosecond of our youth.

Cal State Fullerton.


I was never a fan of Orange County. Who is? Fullerton is a dreary place with malls, drive-in Taco Bells, and highways that go on forever. It's America at its least charming, devoid of atmosphere and texture. But the theatre department was great, and I adore the weather and the palm trees. Couldn't someone move the climate to Oregon and Denmark? But then again, I'm a lucky man. I live in two great cities: Copenhagen and Portland. So you have to forgive me, but how could I be impressed by Disneyland and the Brea mall?

I kiss my past goodbye in the airport with the most hideous name in America: John Wayne. But when my plane takes to the skies, I can't wait to go back to Fullerton for my book tour next year. And for another crawl down my smoggy memory lane ...

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