“Everyting gonna be irie,” our Jamaican shuttle bus driver assured us after we had touched down in Ft. Lauderdale, sensing our uneasiness on this stifling August morning, the last day we would spend together before dropping off Michaela at school.
I didn’t know what “irie” meant but it was close enough to Ire to be a good omen. We stuffed six suitcases into our rental car, then drove to our hotel, spending a half hour floating together, silently, in the warm Atlantic.
We met Michaela’s Brazilian roommate, Paula, and her family for the first time in a restaurant in Coral Gables that night. Her folks spoke Portuguese only, so communication was tricky, but I recognized the anguish in her father’s eyes, as he drank in his last looks at his daughter. I found a Google translator that allowed us to email one another across the dinner table, which is how I learned that, like Michaela and me, his name and his daughter’s are only one letter apart, and that Michaela and Paulo share the same birthday.
The next morning we drove to “The U,” a gorgeous, palm-tree-lined campus with canopied gliders surrounding the lake at the center of the campus, and an Olympic outdoor pool which at night is converted into a “dive in” movie theatre where students float on air mattresses watching movies. (And to think I spent my four years of college in Poughkeepsie where the only things that floated in the Hudson were dead fish.)
We spent the next several hours transforming Michaela’s half of the 310 square feet of institutionalized space into a place she could call her home. I was entrusted with unpacking a couple of her suitcases, arranging her 25 pairs of shoes into two neat rows in the closet. Absent-mindedly I began transferring the next items of my assigned suitcase into her dresser as I contemplated whether I had owned that many shoes in my lifetime.
“Dad, not those!” she barked, grabbing a wad of pastel patches of cloth connected with dental floss out of my hands.
This was my cue to take a run, so I slipped on my shoes and loped through the campus, the endorphins washing away some of the darker thoughts of leaving Michaela. When I got back to the dorm Lisa handed me the change of clothes I had neatly folded so I could walk down a flight to take a shower on the boys’ floor. It was only after I got out of the shower that I realized my towel was missing. Then I remembered the hand-blower by the sink. So I angled the blower to dry off everything it could reach, looking like I was playing a game of Twister when an unsuspecting freshman walked into the bathroom.
“Dude, my mom forgot to pack me a towel,” I explained. He swiveled on his heels, horrified.
“Everything’s going to be irie,’” I yelled, hearing his footfalls fade away.
Just when I thought I was through with my dad’s endless schemes to humiliate me in front of my peers, I moved into college. As we drove onto campus, I tried to assure myself that I was not alone; every freshman was drinking from the same nerve-racking and exciting elixir. As we maneuvered through the tangle of cars trying to find their way to the correct dorms, I could almost hear the wheels turning in my father’s cobwebbed mind, searching for untested ways to embarrass me. My mom steered us toward a group of 30 attractive young men who were gathered on either side of the road to expeditiously unload my belongings into a roller bin that they would then hustle up to my room. I was jarred from my brief daydream when my mom hopped the curb in our trusty Hyundai rental, apparently distracted herself by the posse of boys ahead, causing the tires to yelp loudly in protest, before she brought all four wheels back onto the pavement.
As we rolled into the unloading line, several young men who had not dived for cover upon our frightening entrance ran over and emptied out all of my luggage before I could even get out of the car. We were then ushered through the two lines of boys who were screaming and cheering for me in stereo. My dad lowered the window, climbed half way out of the car and started cheering with everyone, as if he were the incoming freshman, yelling: “Where the girls at?”
After about five minutes of pretending to help us unpack in my dorm room, my dad changed into running shoes and fled the scene, leaving my mom and me to put everything away. Eventually, he returned freshly showered with a huge smirk on his face, which is never a good thing.
“Hey Mick! I hate to say it but I just scarred some kid downstairs for life.”
I saw the towel in the corner of the room, and had a horrible realization which my father confirmed. Apparently, when he stepped out of the shower (butt naked) he summoned all his powers of analytical thinking, and somehow concluded it was a good idea to waltz through the bathroom and stand under the hand dryer right next to the bathroom’s entrance ON MOVE-IN DAY.
That’s when an innocent freshman wandered into my senile 60-year-old father drying himself like a rabid animal in its den. Suffice it to say, when I walked my parents downstairs to the front of my residential college, our goodbye embrace was short and sweet as I looked around to make sure no one saw me with the streaker.
Mike Kerin is a lawyer in Milford, and his daughter, Michaela, recently graduated from Amity High School and has just started college. In their column, this father and daughter bicker and banter about boys, curfews, homework, stress at school, dress codes, and a host of other issues that represent the jagged edges of adolescence which they must navigate every day, sometimes with humor, sometimes with sarcasm, always with love.