Sunday, July 6, 2008

Recalling my Rhode Island years (1972-74)

In late 1971 I was finishing my BS degree in chemistry at City College of New York (CCNY) and was thinking about graduate schools.  I felt that it was time to leave my parents and live on my own for the first time. I checked out several graduate school catalogs and decided to apply to the University of Rhode Island (URI) that was 30 miles away from Providence in a rural area.  I did examine the research interests of the chemistry professors there and wrote on my application that I would be interested in doing research with Professor Bruno M. Vittimberga.  (He is still there!!) One Friday night in December 1971 I received a phone call from Dr. Vittimberga saying that I had been accepted.

I decided that on Christmas week I would take a bus ride up there and look for a place to live.  I met Dr. Vittimberga at the chemistry building.  He immediately talked to me about his research.  On this trip I found a room in the home of an elderly couple (the Latowskis) about one mile north of the campus.

I completed my courses at CCNY in early January and two days later my parents drove me up to the campus.  My roommate, a French Professor, took me to nearby Wakefield to buy a bicycle so I could get around the campus.  I had to take some qualifying exams before I could register for courses.

The logistics of living there without a car were very difficult since it was a rural area.  I was really in a jam during bad weather.  I felt very uncomfortable bumming rides off people.  Since my landlord did not allow his boarders to use the kitchen I had to eat in the University Dining services with the undergraduates.  I soon found out that there was a big rift socially between graduate and undergraduate students.

I had to plead with my parents for a car.  When I came home for Spring break my parents bought me a 1972 Chevy Nova with the stipulation that I pay them back over time.  Would you believe that a compact car cost $2750 back then?

I found that the academic culture was quite different at URI than it was at CCNY.  The graduate students and faculty socialized quite freely at URI where it was forbidden at CCNY.  I was invited many times to professors’ home for social gatherings.  There were Jewish people at URI, but you had to look for them.  There was a Hillel there, but I found the Jewish undergraduates very unfriendly.  My fellow graduate students were friendlier.

I was a graduate teaching assistant at URI with a small salary.  I taught sections of chemistry laboratory under faculty members.

Once I had my car, I knew I had to find another place to live.  URI was very close to Narragansett, a beach community.  It was very easy to rent a beach house from September to May.  It was about a 15-minute drive to the campus.  I was able to rent a house with two roommates for an entire year.  To make a long story short my experience with roommates was very disappointing.  In any event it was better than living in Latowski’s house.

Another disappointing experience back then was that most of my friends from CCNY were getting married in 1973, while I was living in RI.  I was even best man at someone’s wedding, but shortly thereafter, he began to make caustic comments to me about not having a girlfriend.  My parents had brainwashed me that dating out of the religion was a deadly sin.  I didn’t have many dates during those two years.

I used to drive up to Providence quite regularly.  There was a Jewish Community Center that had a program for singles.  I’ll never forget how one guy in that group was so crass after I asked him a question with my New York accent.  He said, “Why don’t you go back to New York”. I also went to the Brown University Hillel house that ran services every Friday night in the rabbi’s home.  Those people were a lot friendlier.

As I mentioned in a recent posting, everyone is Rhode Island listened to Salty Brine and WPRO (AM).

My lease ended in August 1973 so I had to find another place to live.  I accidentally met Jeff who lived in Queens and was looking for a roommate.  I lived in a house in the Harbor Island section until my graduation in 1974.

I really grew up during the two Rhode Island years.  Academically, I picked aschool that was at my level. With 20-20 hindsight I wish I had picked an area in a smaller city.  URI was just too isolated.  During my last semester I took several interview trips, but at the time of my graduation, I had no job.  It was very difficult for me to move back with my parents in January 1974 after being on my own for two years.

The next five years were very difficult for me.

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