I spend the morning sitting by the window, my feet in a blanket, reading student papers. It’s gray outside and frigid, and this reading is a pure pleasure against that world. I’ve lived in Arizona long enough now that every sunny day doesn’t call me outside, but I remember clearly how winter helped me this way when I was at the University of Utah. We stayed in the library until after dark and then hurried through the snow to the dorms. A good gray, frosty day improves the quality of a room for me.
The topic all week has been who will be the final torchbearer and light the Olympic flame in the deluxe stadium cauldron. Names are flying. We’re arguing here in the house. The torchbearers all have remarkable stories of dealing with hardship and revealing in their struggles the best of the human spirit. I stayed up two nights ago and saw a biography on E! that determined my vote. She lived in a trailer, hung out with thugs, and came in eighth in the Olympics for Skating. She didn’t know about the wicked plans. I saw her say so. She didn’t know. I say it’s time to welcome her back. She’s young and strong and didn’t know about any of it. The hoodlums say she did, but did you see those guys? Give her the torch; she’s ready. Forgive and forget. I’d say her name, but if I did my sister-in-law would make me read on the porch.
I call home and get an update. I missed a department meeting and got nominated to a post; it’s the way all effective committees work. To be absent is to run for office. Nick, my son who is a high-school senior, has written a paper on “The Rubaiyat”; he chose to write about the metaphor of the wine cup. I’m not sure high-school students need any lessons in Seize the Day. They’ve already got the day by the handles. And, I might as well break the other news right here: A letter arrived. He’s been admitted to college. I ask him how that feels and he says, “It’s O.K.”
Today we’re going to see the Olympic torch. It’s dropping out of Fort Douglas and then around campus and down First South, which is lined with fraternity and sorority houses. It’s gloomy late in the day as we set out. Nick was a baby on this corner 10 minutes ago. Now he’s 17. Honestly: This is his jacket I’m wearing. Where are those years? I want to know. When I asked him what he’d learned from “The Rubaiyat,” he quoted his favorite line, “Take the cash and let the credit go.” I hope he hasn’t seen Hud and heard that smart Texan’s philosophy about being 17: “Get all the good you can out of it; ‘cause it don’t last long.”
In the thick, cold dusk, the torch comes down the hill in the hand of a red-haired woman in the official white suit. It has got to be strange to see this many motorcycle cops on fraternity row without a party in one of the houses. The six high-school girls next to me have been hilarious for half an hour announcing loudly how cold they are, how they are really freezing now, how ice is forming upon them, and is it cold enough? As the torch passes, they all stand up, wave their flags, and are strangely quiet. The official vehicles, all 10 of them, pass. The girls flee, and the crowd disperses. As we walk back through the beautiful campus where I lived for three years so long ago, it all suddenly feels a lot like winter.
The Utah Legislature wants to allow concealed weapons on campus. This week they abolished the fee for concealed weapons permits. I’m a professor, and as we pass between the Music Building and Kingsbury Hall, I try to picture all the undergraduates and their firearms. I don’t know. I imagine we’re going to hear: “Are you unprepared for the exam or is that a pistol in your pocket?” Will the best fellowships include a pistol and the holster in which to hide it? I do know for a stone cold fact that in Utah grades are going up.
My plane departs Friday morning, and it’s snowing. The opening Olympic ceremonies will commence this evening, and that famous flame will finally arrive. It’s been around. We’ve all been around. I’ll miss President Bush, but he knows how I feel. I’ve got to fly home to Arizona before the Salt Lake airport is shut down for the festivities. We start our winter softball schedule tonight in Tempe, and I have to find my mitt in the garage. Oh, Salt Lake, you old town. I’ll be back. You’re all found out now, but still I wish you well. Let the Games begin.