Rants, raves, readings, and talks about things I read, see, watch, run over in the road, believe, don't believe and whatever else might be on my mind. I'm blogging because blogs are no longer cool. They're not cool any longer, right? I should be tweeting now. Let me know when that isn't cool and I'll start doing it.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Being a Mentor in My Kind of Town
The other night I went to a show at the new music venue in
Berwyn, Wire.It was the guitarist from
Dada, playing with a jazz quartet called Mike Gurley and the Nightcaps. They played
some of their own songs and covering a lot of the standards: Sinatra, Billie
Holiday, that kind of stuff.They
covered a Stevie Ray Vaughan song, Lenny, which made me think back to high
school when I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan a lot.I mean, all the time.So that made me want to listen to music I
hadn’t listen to in a long time, so I fired up Spotify to listen to some SRV,
then some Frank Sinatra, who my wife’s grandfather loved and her grandmother
just died so then I wanted to listen to a lot of Sinatra.Then My Kind of Town came on and that
reminded me of the summer of 1996 and my time as a new student Orientation Mentor
at DePaul University.
Are you with me still?I know, what a long way to go to get to here.But that’s how my mind works most of the time
and sometimes I can’t even trace my way back.
Summer of 1996?Hmm,
Sinatra?I’m lost here, Mike, you are
saying to yourself.
Here me out.Come
with me on this one.
Let’s explain what it means to be a new student Orientation
Mentor.Basically, you shepherd around
incoming freshman during a two day orientation session on campus.You meet the
kids in the morning, take them to testing, and show them around campus.They stay overnight in the dorms, which
includes dinner in the cafeteria , a bus tour, and a night of music by the mentor
band (and some other stuff that I don’t remember).During my freshman orientation, I thought it
was the coolest job so I applied for it going into my senior year and somehow
made it through the interview process and got the job, along with 16 other
I lived on campus for
free that summer and worked my help desk job when we didn’t have a
session.I learned more about the school
and knew people in every department by the time the summer ended.The president of the university at the time,
Father John Minogue, was a big fan of the mentor program and he often joined us
for team dinners and later in the summer took us to Six Flags Great
America.It turns out Father Minogue was
a bit of a roller coaster nut.I was
lucky enough to ride the Shockwave with him.It was the last time I rode the Shockwave.
I also had just turned twenty one right before the summer
so it was a good time to be in Lincoln Park and of
legal drinking age.There were some
other good firsts that summer.I had a
girlfriend.That was cool.I got a lecture about not taking advantage of
young college freshman from the woman who ran the program.Not like a group lecture to all of the guys
on the staff.Just me.Which was funny.I also got called out for having a hickey on
my neck the first time Father Minogue had dinner with us.Not by him, but as much as you can try to say
“It’s not a hickey,” even the Catholic priest knew it was a hickey.
“Okay, Mike, but way up at the beginning you said something
about Sinatra.When do we get to
There were a few things we did as part of the orientation
that I remember very well.The first day
started off with a small group meeting, then we brought the entire group of
students together to see our introduction skit, where we taught the audience
about DePaul and its core values (urban, Vicentian and teaching) and introduced
ourselves.In the skit I played the
super cool laid back surfer dude roommate and along with one other mentor named
Andy, got to say the second best line of the entire skit:“Mmmmm, Funyons.”There was an actual bag of Funyons as a
prop.Andy and I were dared to eat the
Funyons at the end of the summer.We
didn’t.If you are wondering what the
best line of the skit was, the announcer, Veronique, said “Arugula.It’s a vegetable.”Why these two lines stick in my memory, I
The first day was long.Testing, campus tour, going to each college office to meet with
counselors and advisors, lunch, traveling downtown if my group was in the
College of Commerce.Then, at night, the
bus tour of the city, where we often played a game called “Is Mike lying.”During this game, I would explain some fact
about the city of Chicago, or a building we were passing and the students on
the bus would have to guess if I was telling the truth or lying.Standard lies that were part of the tour
included “That there is the first Wendy’s in the U.S,” (there was always
someone from Ohio who knew it was in Dublin, Ohio), “That gas station canopy
was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (Clark and LaSalle, totally not true) and
“There is a Walgreens on every block in Chicago,” (not true at the time but
might be true now).
After the tour, the Mentor Band took stage in the 3rd
floor lounge of Seton Hall.Made up of
Chris Hamblett on bass and vocals, John Alvarado on guitar and another Chris,
who was not a mentor but a DePaul music school student, on drums and yours
truly on guitar trying to keep up with these real musicians.It was a blast.Chris singing Zombie by the Cranberries and
the one kid who actually knew all of the lyrics to Blues Traveler’s Runaround were
highlights of the summer.Oh, and how
could I forget the bitchin’ version of Wicked Game that we played.Oh, why were there no smart phones with video
back in 1996.
“Is this where Sinatra comes in,” you are asking now.“Did you sing ‘Strangers in the night’ for
It’s not Sinatra time yet, but soon.I promise
The Stuart Center was the student center and houses the
cafeterias and other common areas.It
had an area known as “the Pit,” which, was, well, a pit.It was our de facto meeting place.We spend a lot of time doing nothing but
waiting in the pit.It could get a bit
boring.If it got too boring, we
starting singing the theme to “I Love Genie.”(Insert Spotify link).We did
that a lot.Well, at least twice.People looked at us funny.DePaul’s incoming class probably wouldn’t
know the song.
The second day of the orientation was shorter and we ended
the day in the same large auditorium that we had started in the morning before.
This was the wrap up, the send-off for
the rest of the summer, the see you Freshman in September when classes
start.It also marked the end of two
long days for the mentor staff.It ended
with a slideshow of Chicago sights, set to My Kind of Town.
“Finally, Sinatra,” you are saying.
The first few sessions we just listened to the song.Then we started to mouth the words silently.By mid-summer many of us were singing along
quietly.But by the end of the summer,
then entire mentor staff was singing along with every word.Not only did we like the song but it also
marked the end of the exhausting two days.It also meant that we were just a few minutes away from the post
orientation drink, a tradition that we started early in the summer and
completed dutifully in my room as soon as we sent the no longer nervous
incoming freshman into the arms of their now very nervous parents.
And here we are back where we started.
When you spend that much time with a small group of people,
you become good friends.I wish I could
say that I still talk to all of the people I worked with that summer, but I
can’t.I haven’t see any of them for
ages.Because of the modern joys of
Facebook, I know where a few of them are and what they are doing.And every time I hear ‘My Kind of Town’ I’m
taken back to that summer.To the purple
shirts we woreall summer (see picture),
to the sixty six students I met that summer and help introduce them to DePaul
University and the city of Chicago, to the fun I had, and the Funyons we never ate, to that very auditorium
that still does exist. I can see us all at the back of the Auditorium, singing together in the darkness as the slide show played. It ended with the last 'My Kind of Town,' the song ended and the lights came back up.
The 1996 DePaul University mentor staff. I'm the dude with the mushroom hair in the front row.