My continuing educational journey resumes at California State University, Long Beach, on August 22, 2022.
I’m often asked, “Why are you going to college at your age?” Why not? Better than wasting away in front of a television sitting on a battered sofa that has seen too much drinking, too much smoking (the marijuana kind), and too much slobbering coming out of my mouth. I’m thinking about all this nightmare as I joke out loud, “Well, I don’t play golf.”
But seriously, I tell them and probably myself, besides it being number one on my bucket list for most of my adult life, I had always loved to learn; I didn’t know how much until I realized I had stopped learning a long time ago. I had stopped reading books, magazines, and hell; the newspaper only deserved a glance. I was focused on the Trades (Hollywood Reporter, Variety) for some twenty years and maybe an occasional passing glance at something outside my career if I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room or waiting for my haircut or bored at Starbuck’s and someone left a magazine on a table.
Honestly, I think I stopped learning sometime around high school in 1966. However, I did try slipping in those single semesters of college in 1967 and 1970. Then there were those faint-hearted efforts at UCLA Extension in the early nineties when I swore I wanted to become a Hollywood screenwriter with some script titled Dealin’ or the time in 1987 I was chosen out of a hundred or more applicants nationally to attend a two-week intensive workshop at the American Film Institute on Writing Drama for Television with a script called Custer’s Last Stand (No, not that Custer, another one, an old Detective).
Somewhere in between the induced fogs inspired by drugs and alcohol, I dreamed of expanding my universe of knowledge (before the internet when you really had to go to a library or an extension class) and even thought that maybe attending an actual college course would jumpstart my life again even when I had finally reached my lifelong dream of working in Hollywood, well sort of. I wasn’t writing teleplays or screenplays.
I wasn’t directing or producing the next humongous blockbuster directed and produced by ANTONIO PEDRO RUIZ, direct from the South Bronx, from public housing to the streets of Hollywood and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. No, I would have to be satisfied with live television of celebrities walking a red carpet between a phalanx of cameras and inquisitive hosts and producers asking, “Tell me dahling, what are you wearing under that mahvelous sequin dress?” and I guess some knowledge is better than no knowledge at all—sort of.
Don’t get me wrong. From the nineteen seventies through the two-thousand teens, I got lucky with careers and jobs that many only dream of. And I’m grateful. They all taught me something, injecting into my brain a skill, an insight, a clue to the keys that unlock the universe inside and outside me. But I knew some time after I went sober in 2011 that I wanted more than just what could be found in real-life experience (still the best teacher). I dreamed of a structured environment where a teacher of some importance and wisdom would direct my attention to knowledge unknown to me and the keys to unlocking my imagination and the directions to past and future worlds where someone is not stopping me so they can ask, “What the fuck are you wearing? (A flowery Hawaiian Shirt and untorn Levis jeans with black and white running shoes, and what the fuck is that Jibaro hat on your head).
When was I brave enough in 2016 to admit that I had missed out on the entire college experience beginning at seventeen in 1966 and that if I had stayed, I would have probably been at the forefront of a mob of students who would have stormed the halls of academia in 1968 during the days of rage and probably have gotten kicked out of college or worse and ended up not with a college degree but with a jail sentence and where would I be?
Fast forward to 2016, and five years later, into the middle of a Pandemic, and despite it, I collected my Associate of Arts degree in English from Long Beach City College and graduated with a 3.94 GPA (damn that B in Stats). I was accepted to the only University I applied to two blocks from my house California State University, Long Beach, where I continued my education journey through Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. Now it’s Fall 2022, and I am working hard at seventy-three toward a BA in English focusing on Nonfiction Creative Writing in Spring to graduate in 2024 when I will be seventy-five. And to be even more ambitious, I have plans for beyond suddenly. If I can still breathe, walk, and talk, why not?
I want to pursue post-graduate work in American Studies, American History, Bronx Nuyorican and Dominican Voices that have been unheard, unseen, searching for my identity, why I’m an American, to fight back at those crazy ass Americans who insist that I’m not American and what does that all mean politically, culturally, and can we even save America?
I now read voraciously everything I can get my hands on (Thank you, Kindle, Amazon Books, the internet, and every online discount bookstore I can find). I’m writing poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, a thought, a scrap of my mind, a sentence, many sentences, playing with words, with form, with insight, with clues that lead to other clues that will unlock more clues to definitions that will help me see that learning is forever to be found in books and the internet and life in the experience of learning and exchanging wisdom through that learning.
I’m going to get those future degrees, not for the paper they represent but because they will be markers on my path to greater knowledge (you can teach an old dog new tricks) and the keys to the universe.