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Escaping an embarrassment of riches

This wasn’t supposed to happen. They said it couldn’t happen here. But it did.

When I enrolled at Portland State University, I expected to have a secret life. Among 20,000 students, a ton of faculty, staff, clerks and groundskeepers, I knew I would become invisible. I expected to be another pair of shuffling feet in line in Neuberger Hall. I considered getting one of those “Hello my name is” stickers and writing my social security number in the blank space.

After all, I already had a life. I had housemates, family and old friends. I had favorite bartenders and a food service job. Everyone knew that Portland State was an urban university, a commuter school. But something happened.

I accidentally said hello to someone. Or maybe somebody asked me for change or a cigarette. I really do not remember how it happened. It’s all kind of a blur now. All I know is that I ended up meeting a couple of people.

Maybe the bar was full and I shared a table with somebody. Perhaps I missed a class and had to ask someone to look at his notes. It may have been that I was so willing to avoid working that I felt inclined to talk to anybody within 10 feet of me. But somehow, something happened, and I ended up with a couple of friends.

That’s when the second stage began. I had school friends and real friends. There were familiar faces from classes, lines and computer labs with whom I traded nods and hellos. These were my school friends. When we found ourselves actually talking, we talked about professors, programs and pedagogy.

I still had my real friends, those whose phone numbers I knew, whose boyfriends I met and whose parties I attended. When they asked how school was, I told them that things were occasionally frustrating, but fine, and left it at that.

Now a third stage is upon me. Remember, this wasn’t supposed to happen. I know my classmates’ spouses and religious persuasions. I have even met some of their parents, for goodness sake. What is going on here? Where has my urban university gone? When did the shift take place? It’s not as though I have been attending Viking sport events or student council meetings. I haven’t become one of those homeless students I hear about occasionally who sleep in deserted offices and stairways. I just ended up with a couple of friends here on campus. We talk about the things real friends talk about, and we borrow money from each other.

So now I have a new problem. Well, into every life a little rain must fall, or something like that. When the library is closed (as it often is during summer session), where do I go to hide from all these friends? Where can I sit and read and think and space out without spending money or listening to whatever watered down rave music coffee shops seem intent on playing?

Even though I have had my anonymity ripped from me and been coerced into caring about a few folks here at PSU, I know a few places to hide. At the risk of turning my idyllic little retreats into secrets everybody knows, I’ll share a couple of my favorite hiding spots.

The Putting Green may be filled with the sound of traffic and annoying insects, but I have never actually had to get out of the way of someone golfing there, or doing anything else for that matter. It sits just south of Stott Center, and boasts a lovely view of two or three highways. I would not hang out there too late at night if I cared about my personal well being, but if I cared about my personal well being, I wouldn’t have enrolled in summer session in the first place. Regardless, when I sit at the Putting Green, no one asks me to sign a petition. No preachers damn me. No rock bands set up between me and the rock doves. No dogs, no salesmen, and no friends: I love the Putting Green.

The Top Ramen may not be the official name of this miniscule park. Its most striking feature is a huge, tile-covered cylinder. Maybe that has something to do with the title. It lies in the midst of that no-man’s land down by the charismatically titled Fourth Avenue Building. The only distractions I have ever faced there are the occasional skaters looking for Lovejoy Fountain and the occasional security guards looking for the skaters. I would not necessarily recommend spending the night there without undergoing some self-defense training first, but what could be more dangerous than crossing Broadway at rush hour?

There are other secret spots for sitting and thinking, reading, studying and drinking iced coffee out of a thermos. There are plenty of spots around PSU to hide from friends. I just cannot believe I need them. Who are these people? This wasn’t supposed to happen.