College From A Basement Window View
by Chris Tutolo
Fragments of memories remain with me from my time living in State College. Some of them took place in the basement of the Rathskeller. I thought I’d share one of them with you from the summer of 2013, a month or two after I graduated from the university.
It was one of those sweltering summer evenings in a dead and cleared-out State College, the queer emptiness of which only a school’s-out summer could allow. I had plans to meet with a hometown friend of mine and his father, the man who had first inspired me to pursue writing as a career. It was a full-circle evening, and while on most other occasions I would have happily skipped out on such invitations, I wasn’t missing this one for the world. At the time, I had unkempt curly hair down below my shoulders and a ridiculous beard that still flourished in divergent patches on my face. I divided my time post-college between shifts at the Mix in the Pollock Commons and coaching soccer around town, already glimpsing the veritable fruition of a hopes-on-high writer just a few steps from the starting block.
Still, I continued to celebrate Friday nights as I had the half-year’s worth of Friday nights that came before as an undergrad. No one, no job, no lack of money, could take the illustrious debauching of Friday away. Plus, we were meeting at the Skeller, my friends’ fathers, my friends, and my favorite haunt in town. Simultaneously, I had made plans to meet with a girl whom I’d met in my Stat 200 class in the spring. She was a tall, beautiful 19-year-old with a boyfriend and seemingly no interest in me whatsoever. She also happened to be one of a handful of people I knew who had stayed in town for the summer.
The isolation of State College in summer has a habit of turning at-the-most acquaintances into at-the-least hookups. Anyway, she’d been up to drinking, I believe for her birthday, and wanted to meet me in town. I told her where I was — at the corner of College and Allen instead of at the bar, so as not to deter her from coming. At the time, I had this unfounded swagger that bestowed me the confidence to believe I could get her into the bar, regardless of how old she was. We were turned away at the door when the two of us tried to reenter together, and I looked down to where my friend and his father were, still in the same bench seats in the bar, looking up the stone staircase at the scene unfolding between her and me. I turned to her and and only then discovered a longing in her eyes I’d never seen before. I offered to pick up beer and go back to my place, a sweltering fourth-floor apartment on West Foster Avenue, and she agreed.
I went back down the stairs into the Skeller, joined my friend and his father, and began a barrage of excuses as to why I needed to be going, and I can remember letting down my guard for long enough to say, “I’ve had a crush on this girl all semester and she wants to hang out with me tonight.” They both smiled at this and encouraged me to get on with my evening. I knew that this was the last beer I’d share with my friend in State College with a college student’s state of mind, and that I had elected a night of pleasure over a night of commemoration.
In the years that have followed, what sticks in memory is that, for those moments when we sat together in the Skeller, the same bar where my friend and I, my brother, and my father and friend’s father before us had drank, that we all felt the same way one does when he’s 18 and has the world to explore in his own way. We were all our most fondly remembered selves in those old wooden seats. For a few weeks more, throughout what remained of my final summer in State College, I would continue to be that youthful, naive, and wide-eyed lover of life. With the news of its closing, I can still see the same window view of college from the basement of the Rathskeller.