Undergrad Wasteland

I’d never been in a building built before 1940.  Even my dorm–I’d never seen anything with that much history.  Everyone else was really relaxed about it, but I was like tripped out.  I’d be like, “You guys, T.S. Eliot ate lunch here!”

Parks and Recreation actress Rashida Jones on her Harvard days, Boston Common Magazine

Rashida Jones


As I sat down for lunch in Apley Court, my mind turned to future generations of students who would live where I lived, eat where I ate, in the early years of the twentieth century.  Would they, like me, be effete aesthetes, writing long-winded poems, or would they be bodacious actresses?  I was no seer, so I dug into my liver and onions, hoping to find in the entrails of the beast some vision of what life would be like in the early years of the twenty-first century.

T.S. Eliot:  “B-L-T, white toast, light mayo.”


Mankind had learned how to soar like a bird only a few short years ago–what would the future hold?  I seemed to see in the offal of that poor, slaughtered cow an image of a picture box.  And in it a Harvard undergraduate who would go on to much fame in a nationally-broadcast “mockumentary” comedy.

I chewed thoughtfully–I did everything thoughtfully–then Erato, muse of lyric poetry, called to me:

            The Pizza Order of J. Alfred Prufrock

            Let us go then, you and I,
            When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a pizza spread upon a Dunster Street table;
            Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
            Where elites meet to eat
            Then seek to spend restless nights in narrow rooms
            In carved-up apartments
            With lecherous intent
            To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
            Oh, do not ask, “Who is it?”
            I say it’s the woman from “Parks and Recreation”—whosiwhatsis.


Kinko’s, Harvard Square


A good start, surely, but it lacked that–that certain quotidienne touch.  Yes, undergraduate life resembled that of a frog, hopping from one lily pad to another, bedding pseudo-bohemian poetesses right and left.  But there was always–always–a return to the mundane.  Suddenly–it came to me:

In the room the women come and go
To get their copies at Kinko’s!

I put the cap back on my fountain pen with just a touch–all right, a bucketful–of self-satisfaction.  You’re a poet, Thomas Stearns Eliot–and you know it!

Apley Court


I made my way out onto Ivy Yard, there to take in the harmonious blend of nature and civilization that Harvard embodies.  It was spring and, as much as I wanted to get it on with one of the hot Radcliffe babes I saw strolling across campus, I had a final coming up in my Chaucer seminar and a term paper on Beowulf due!

“Pitchers of Bud Mead are only $5 tonight!”


Life was so like totally unfair!  As always, my troubled spirit produced a poem:

Undergrad Waste Land

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Finals from the dead hands of professors, mixing
Memory and desire, just as spring calls us
To throw Frisbees on the Yard, stirring
Dull brains with term papers.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Us in down comforters while we skipped class.
Now, we drink Red Bull and stay up all night.

Dammit I’m good, I said to myself, lifting my arm and pumping my fist in the air, like an ancient Greek warrior, or perhaps a member of the Boston Celtics, which would be formed thirty-six years hence.  Once my armpit was exposed, I was nearly overcome by the stench of modern man and Western civilization.  I had completely forgotten to do my laundry!  I went back to Apley Court, threw my clothes into a sack and hauled ass down to the laundromat where–wonder of wonders!–I found a machine free.

I stuffed my stuff (tautology?) into the top unit, threw in half a cup of 20 Mule Team Borax detergent, dropped two quarters in the slot, and let her rip.  It was somehow soothing, watching the suds and duds tumble over each other instead of parsing The Wife of Bath’s Tale or something equally boring.  I sat there mesmerized and, as always, my reverie led to poetry:

In the Mt. Auburn Street Laundromat

This is the way my laundry ends
This is the way my laundry ends
This is the way my laundry ends
Not with detergent but fabric softener.


Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”



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