It is widely acknowledged that UCSB is a pretty weird place. It’s the type of place that when you hear about puppy love, it most likely has something to do with bestiality.
This naturally came up when I visited my high school recently for the first time since graduation. Nothing – except perhaps a large bodily-endowment – precedes its subject quite like a reputation.
We’ve all had to endure it upon the initial return to the land of our rear-peers. The greetings: in which we’re mockingly asked how it’s going in Isla Vista, if not so much in words than by expression. The annoyingly unsurprised look we get when telling them that there is a campus escort service. The confusion over the definition of our mascot – the Gaucho – which I had originally thought was a Mexican cowboy, only to discover that it’s actually a Venezuelan pimp.
Returning to high school after being away for months has the same feel to it as returning to your mother’s womb – even with the same slipperiness, particularly if it’s a public school and you had to use the bathroom. It’s that uncanny feeling of re-entering the encapsulated location of one’s development as your current self. With some exceptions, high school is where people come into their own as human beings, metamorphosing from globs of deodorant-free flesh into the general, rough form they will assume for life.
The pleasantness of one’s transition from high school to college thus depends on whether or not labor was painful, so to speak. Call me an incestuous masochist, but I found the experience delightful.
Many hated it. Many found it suffocating. Many resented the popularity hierarchy and “playground law” which, no matter how much more sophisticated it was as compared to that of elementary school, still somewhat reigned within high school campus limits. They found it annoying and intimidating.
For such small fish, a bigger pond has much to offer: a lot of other small fish and plenty of room to avoid the big ones. But because I was a mama’s boy, as it were, moving from a high school in Los Angeles to Isla Vista was more like going from a small pond to a slightly bigger pond where the water’s spiked with Hennessy.
It takes time to adjust to such a change. So when I was asked how I like it here, I couldn’t help but think of those early October days when the suspicious rope that hangs from that tree on Pardall Road seemed like a sign from God.
Yup, some things are just tough to leave, as I was reminded of while roaming the halls of yore during my visit and inhaling the old air of lofty superiority that filled my lungs regularly when I inhabited those halls for six hours every weekday. Those halls where walk gave way to strut, where one was a Viking. Simply put, masturbation just hasn’t been the same since.
Most things I’m nostalgic about I anticipated being nostalgic about. One thing, however, has come as a surprise. I’ve grown an appreciation for the politics of my former teachers. The left-leaning ratio among faculty was the same at my high school as it is here – though more Al Gore than Gore Vidal. The difference is, teachers in high school were far more open to being notified that they’re wrong. Professors apparently believe that arrogance is a privileged rightly earned from a two and a half-hour work week.
But my sentiments are more than just nostalgia and pointless musings about the past. “Playground law,” you see, is actually adolescent street law – providing a dose of the real world that UCSB, being an isolated island whose only links to reality are FedEX and the U.S. 101, simply lacks. As Meryl Streep once said in a commencement speech, “You have to realize that real life is not like college. Real life is like high school.”
Still, this crazy little place has its own unique offerings and potential for experience. All it takes is a little getting used to, I told the folks back home, and it ain’t so bad up here. If you can afford a puppy.
Alec Mouhibian is undeclared freshman.