The last column of my Stanford career is dedicated to the late David Wiegand of the San Francisco Chronicle — a critic, a mentor and a mensch.
Today — Saturday, June 9, 2018 — I cried on the basement floor of the Stanford Bookstore. I was there to pick up my cap and gown. At the cash register, a sudden realization flashed through my head: I was standing in the exact same spot where I met my first Stanford friend back in 2013. I was then a rising high school senior who attended the Stanford High School Summer Session on a Questbridge scholarship. She was from Tokyo, Japan. That day, we talked about life in Tokyo, life in Los Angeles (where I grew up), what our futures held. That day, we ate Panda Express — she had mixed veggies. It began to rain outside the black Tressider tables, and we had to walk back to Otero (our dorm) trying to stay dry. We marveled at the many cheeses Subway had to offer. Memories of Kubrick’s “The Shining,” CoHo couches and Skype sessions with her Tokyo girl-friends all merge into one blissful summer. It started incredible adventures for both of us that still keep going.
These termite-sized details are so precious, so beautiful. We all have them. We must preserve as many as possible. When you read them in a novel (from George Eliot to NoViolet Bulawayo), they make you stop and reassess the way you approach what we deem “important” in life. They constitute what my favorite film critic Manny Farber calls “the unheralded ripple of physical experience, the tiny morbidly lifeworn detail which the visitor to a strange city finds springing out at every step.” When we read each other’s termitic details, a once-mysterious part of life suddenly zooms into focus.
The sad, ironic thing is that I hadn’t thought about the wondrous day I met Rachael until today. Yet, my brain still lodged the day in its astonishingly vast bank. When the time came, it shook me and said, “Remember? Remember?” I did, and the tears came.
We spend our four or so years here, noses stuck in books or P-sets, sleep debt ever increasing, not really understanding that our college time is slowly running out. We only realize it when we have a week left on campus. That’s when we say to ourselves, “Oh shit. I leave forever next Sunday.” Then it’s all over: You walk, you get your diploma, you take a couple snaps for the fam, and Stanford sends you on your merry way to your hazy, never-sure, debt-riddled future. Somewhere along the way, in the deal you made to spend four years studying, the wonder of the daily gets “the fuzzy end of the lollipop,” as Marilyn Monroe once sadly mused.
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But it needn’t be like that. For me, the best part of “The Sound of Music” is that unforgettable ditty “My Favorite Things,” in which Julie Andrews tries to comfort the scared Von Trapp kids by reciting a list of things she loves. The things are delicate and haunted by ephemerality: “whiskers on kittens,” “crisp apple strudels,” “snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes.” What is this list if not a list of childhood memories — ones that will either be preserved or be lost to time? I think of “My Favorite Things” when I reflect on all that has kept the flame inside my heart kicking at Stanford.
A Daily-specific memory: the movie nights I’d have with The Daily’s layout guru, Duran Alvarez. I recall the time we watched “Point Blank” (1967) and we could not suppress our glee at the gloriously weird nightclub beatdown. In two tight minutes, a whole flurry of questions are posed — and are never answered. Is the music — an unholy cross of church-funk, Sunset Strip Otis and the Stevie Wonder of “Fingertips” — a parody of or tribute to soul? Why does director John Boorman cut to jarring close-ups of the imitation Stevie Wonder and the fat guy with jowls? Why is the only lyric to this song “I say, YEAH!”? Why does Boorman shoot the fight in pitch-dark, so that we can barely see any movement? In an action film with such crazily erratic editing, why is the scene filmed in such action-killing long takes? Why is the black singer so obsessed with this one fat white guy? What was the photo-session like with the go-go dancers whose constipated faces flash behind Lee Marvin? And let’s not even start on the go-go-dancer’s screams, which add an even more psychotic flavor to a surreal scene — but how do you describe that flavor? To Duran, the song reminded him uncannily of “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell and the Drells. Thus began a tradition of me “tightening-up” to the song every time I came into the Daily House. I didn’t even need to come into The Daily daily. I haven’t been a managing editor of Arts and Life since early 2017. And yet I did, because I loved the vibe, the energy, the people, my fellow journalists who got solid papers out with a consummate professionalism that still continues to provoke awe in me.
Here are a few more of my favorite Stanford things: Happy Donuts runs with the gals and guys of Delta Omega (Stanford’s unofficial breakfast fraternity). The times I’d wander into the Cantor or Anderson and stare at a random painting for 10 minutes plus. The late-night trips to ’Llags, where caffeinated study buddies with bloodshot eyes sat next to out-of-it partygoers who moved in slow-motion.
On the Quad streets at 9:20 a.m., 10:20 a.m., and 1:20 p.m., the run-ins with biking friends — or, even better, friends walking in my same direction. On our frantic way to class, we all surged as if we were in a Stanford spinoff of Jacques Demy’s “The Young Girls of Rochefort.”
The times I would stagger out of the Stanford Theatre, dazed and buzzing, after having discovered a profound work of art like “Only Angels Have Wings” or “The Wages of Fear” or “Hard to Handle” or “The Heiress” or “Bringing Up Baby” or “The Student Prince in Old Heidelberg,” or rewatching a familiar classic like “The Birds” or “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” with wiser eyes.
Tutoring middle-schoolers on Saturday mornings at the Haas Center. The time at the gym when I wheezed “My hip! my hip!” and my best friend broke into wild laughter. The times we would both keep from doing our official work by doing something far more worthwhile: rewatching pre-2004 episodes of “SpongeBob SquarePants.”
Bonfires and luaus and runs to In-N-Out. Rolling down the 280 while singing “American Girl” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Bitching sessions at fountains. Sob sessions with friends — sometimes out in broad daylight. We need that daily reminder that, no, everything is not all right. The heartaches, frustration and fears which flowed out, because they could not stay pent up. We need that daily reminder that, no, everything is not always “good, good.”
Throughout the four years, there were not enough words to express the constantly-felt pains and joys. Memories were made, but we don’t know which ones will last. Friendships were broken, but they may be mended. I’d meet someone new and the jazzy path of my life would pick up a beautiful, life-affirming countermelody. I’d talk with an old friend and they would reveal a new dimension to their soul, leaving me as humbled as Louis Jourdan in Vincente Minnelli’s “Gigi”: “Have I been standing up too close, or back too far? I was mad not to have seen the change in you…”
Whatever the case, at Stanford, life was always fresh and exciting and — one of my favorite words — weird. I hope life after Stanford stays weird. I hope we remember to pause and delight in the flavor of green tea over rice — whether it is late spring, the end of summer, or an autumn afternoon. I hope when it rains in Cherbourg, we have an umbrella. I hope when we hear our whisper of the heart, we listen. I hope we meet that king in New York; I hope we find that countess from Hong Kong. And I hope that the best years of our lives are yet to come.
Thank you so much for reading.
Contact Carlos Valladares at cvalladares0896 ‘at’ gmail.com.