Evan Feuerstein thought he was going to college to find out the meaning of life. His father Morris thought he was sending Evan to college so he’d become a dentist. Then he could join Morris in his West 23rd Street dental practice, which had just expanded to take up two apartments instead of only one.
At first Evan was delighted with college. Instantly he found a circle of friends who’d also been misfits until now. These friends liked to play guitars and banjos and sing songs like “Silkie,” a sad and mysterious ballad about a sea-creature with the body of a fish and the head of a man. The Silkie could leave the sea for dry land and become a man on only one day each year, after which he had to return to his natural element. The students also liked other songs Evan enjoyed singing, like “Don’t Fence Me In.” Morris was not delighted when Evan went on a song-collecting trip in Appalachia and failed pre-med chemistry.
The course Evan liked best was the seminar on Utopian communities, which he did not fail. To his parents’ consternation, he took up with a non-Jewish girl who played the banjo and planned to become a nurse in the Amazon jungle. He also grew a beard, which caused the Dean to write a letter to his parents about grades and beards. Evan then shaved off his beard, glued it onto an enlarged photograph of himself which he’d printed in the college darkroom, and mailed it to his parents in New York. But it was too late for calming measures: He had flunked out.
Even when he wasn’t a student anymore, Evan lived on campus. During the day, he read hundreds of books in the college library, looking for the meaning of life. At night, he worked in a barbecue grill factory. The college had removed his bed from the dorm room, but Evan’s roommate didn’t mind if he slept on the floor in a sleeping bag. When he got back from the night shift, one of his eccentric friends would usually still be awake, reading. This friend studied Classics, but his father wanted him to become a “real” man and was disappointed that he didn’t like hunting and fishing.
Each night Evan got on his bicycle and rode off to assemble barbecue grills. As he pedaled past the lighted windows of the big Victorian houses on the outskirts of campus he saw people moving around their kitchens, watching TV, going upstairs and downstairs. He realized that his life was meant to be lived in a different element, like the Silkie’s.
Copyright © Leora Freedman 2016
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