Monday, September 8, 2008

Humor Me: My old friend needs some help

By MATT WIXON

Over the years, I've lost contact with most of my friends from
college. In the case of my buddy Milo, who spent an entire year
playing Nintendo and dropping classes, perhaps some distance is a
good thing.

But I regret that I let so many other friends slip away. I miss
them sometimes, along with my exciting, carefree, full-head-of-hair
college days. The days when I strove for greater knowledge by
investigating theories, challenging widely held beliefs and
limiting myself to two presses of the snooze bar. (The first 20
minutes of Introduction to British Literature weren't that
important.)

Despite the pull of time and geography, however, I have kept in
touch with one friend. Actually, it's more that one friend has kept
in touch with me. Every few months, this friend calls to check on
how my life is going and how my job is working out. And, of course,
whether I can spare some extra change.

"Milo, is that you?"

No, it's my old buddy the University of Arizona whom, as a student,
I affectionately called "The U." (In return, The U. affectionately
referred to me as "Student No. A14259T." It was something like
that, anyway, because I remember that I was not just a number to
The U. - I was a combination of numbers and letters.)

Anyway, last week The U. called me up for a few minutes of
reminiscing and begging. According to The U. representative, it was
a "friendly" call that the university likes to make to alumni.

It started out friendly. We talked about the university's expanded
computer labs. We talked about the new student union, the football team and other university updates. We even talked about college reunions.

It was fun to talk about college again because I really
loved my college experience. And as I told stories of getting lost
in the social sciences building, changing my major four times and
standing in line for three hours to get a student ID card, it felt
as if I were talking to an old friend.

But along with hairlines and waistlines, it seems time changes
friendships. After a few minutes, I realized The U. and I had grown
in different directions. While I still wanted to swap stories about
3 a.m. fire drills in the dormitories, my buddy started talking
about capital improvements, funding shortfalls and donor levels.

Granted, I think about money a lot more than I did 15 years ago.
These days I'm more likely to view an exciting CD opportunity as a
certificate of deposit than the latest release from Pearl Jam. But
while The U. and I share a heightened interest in my money, we have
a serious problem: I'm concerned about keeping it, whereas The U.
wants a piece of it. It's not a healthy baseline for a friendship.

Not surprisingly, our talk turned serious. Suddenly, The U.
representative was talking like an insurance salesman concerned
about my level of collision coverage.

He talked about the crucial role of alumni. He mentioned the "gold
level" and becoming a "partner" with the university. I tuned out
after that, but phrases like "one thousand dollars, two thousand or
more" and "payment plans" came up several times.

"Alumni like you are essential," I remember him saying. "The
university is counting on your continued support."

Continued support? My friend doesn't know me very well. Other than
a few basketball tickets and a couple of school sweatshirts, I
haven't funded The U. since I received my diploma. Extending
payments to the school after my graduation hasn't even been
tempting.

So I declined to make a donation. But I know our friendship isn't
over.

The U. will call again soon for another friendly chat. And when my
buddy asks me to continue my current support levels, I might have
some good news:

I'm considering buying a new Arizona baseball cap from the school bookstore.

***
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