When I was a senior in high school, I decided to apply to a couple of East Coast colleges. Although my mother had no idea where most of these schools were or why I couldn’t just go to college in Los Angeles, she bit her tongue long enough for me to apply wherever I wanted as long as I was able to a) get a fee waiver or b) pay for it myself. “Es tu vida, haz lo que quieras,” she said, seemingly wiping her hands of any responsibility for my choices.
Since she is a mother, her resolve to let me do my own thing lasted only so long, and that’s how she came to help me and what became my alma mater with admissions.
You see, one of the things about the East Coast schools where I applied is that several required in-person alumni interviews as part of their admissions package. Never having had to interview for anything except my part-time job at K-mart, I thought this was an interesting concept for a school to try, so I dutifully scheduled the first of my interviews, pulled out the giant RTD bus map, and figured out how to get from Bell to Eagle Rock.
On one Saturday morning as I left the house for my interview, my mother followed me out. Not wanting to fight forces of nature on that particular morning, I silently acquiesced and we both left the house at 6 a.m., in order to make a 10 a.m. appointment.
Because weekend bus schedules in the late 80s were pretty bad, it took us about two and a half hours to get to the general vicinity of Eagle Rock. We spent the next forty minutes walking to the house where my interview was scheduled. Although we’d been on the road for over three hours, we were still early, so we found a spot on a nearby curb and planned on waiting the 20 or so minutes until it was appropriate to knock on my interviewer’s door.
We’d been at the quiet corner for all of about 10 minutes when a woman came out of the house and “shooed” us—yes, “shooed,” like you “shoo” vermin—off the sidewalk. When I smiled and explained to her that I was just waiting for a college interview to start, she started screaming at both my mother and me. She told us we didn’t belong in her neighborhood and that we were leaving her no choice but to call the police.
I was less brazen at 17 than I am now, so instead of really giving the woman something to call the police about, I took my mom on another walk. We walked around the block–twice–before the interview started. On our walk we complained bitterly about how easily some people found it to belittle and embarrass others for no apparent reason.
Despite the day’s rough start, the interview went off without a hitch, I was admitted, and then I didn’t go to that college. The mystic in me just thought the whole event with the screaming lady didn’t bode well.
This week marks almost 19 years since I went on that interview, and almost 10 years since I started doing admissions interviews myself. I do the interviews at my mom’s apartment in the neighborhood where I grew up and where most of the kids I see live.
The high school seniors see me. Their parents see my mother. Both groups see the huge, beaming diplomas that fill one wall of the 800 square-foot apartment.
My mother and I also try not to threaten anyone or otherwise do anything to make well-meaning kids, and the parents who raised them, think that they don’t belong anyplace in this world.
© Laura Genao 2007