#792: M-I-Z-

May 19th, 2017

He was one of the people paid, for whatever reason, to sit on a folding chair outside of a car wash.

He was old and middle-age fat. Not obese, just a spare tire that wouldn’t go anywhere even if he tried to do anything about it, which he hadn’t.

But it wasn’t his girth that attracted me, nor his close-cropped buzz, nor the fact I was a few seconds from finding out he was one of the last holders of a North Side Chicago accent.

It was the fact he was decked head to toe in my college colors did.

“M-I-Z!” I called to him.

He looked at me blankly, so I kept walking.

“Z-O-U!” he finally called after me. “Sorry, I only had that once before. It was a little boy and I didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.”

He apologized for not instantly recognizing┬áthe first half of the university’s famed call-and-response. He didn’t go there, he said. The yellow University of Missouri T and the black Mizzou jams were in honor of his daughter, currently a student.

“She was in journalism-”

Here my heart both skipped a beat and swelled.

Journalism at Mizzou. My past. My heritage. Walking through the Columns. Parties at the J-Slums. The Maneater. The Missourian. The four-year academic program I spent five of the best years of my life finishing, leading to a career in the profession and practice of news.

“-but thank God she got out of that,” he finished. “She’s in elementary education now.”

Ouch, old man. Ouch.

As a Midwestern man of a certain age, I’m required to start caring about my undergraduate education. It starts with giving the first half of a call-and-response to strangers in your college colors (“M-I-Z-” for Missouri, “Go Green” for Michigan State, “We are” for Penn State). Then your eyes start to linger on your alumni magazine, the stray thought passing that maybe you could afford to give them a few bucks this year.

Finally you find yourself yelling at a small child to mow the lawn better as you wear jorts and a ratted Mizzou sweatshirt, sip a domestic beer from a Mizzou koozie, watch Mizzou Tigers football and check MIZZOU Magazine to see which classmates have either surpassed you or died. It, like shag carpets and rec rooms, is the law of the Middle West.

In reality, college was good for me, but I was also annoyed and depressed much of the time. I champed at the bit to get out in life. I wanted my career in journalism, as I tediously phrased and rephrased it to anyone who would listen, to follow “the Jimmy Olsen route,” learning from the newsroom, not the classroom.

Now, out in the world for 15 and counting, I’m glad there are young women studying elementary education there. I’m glad there are dads decked head to toe in black and gold to support their daughters. I’m glad for this man on this chair by a car wash in the city I call home, making me think of a place I called home before.

Wishes for more recent students

The best teacher I ever had

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You are currently reading #792: M-I-Z- by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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