He's a beast of burden and a slow learner

August 13, 2005|By ROB KASPER

IT WAS A hot Saturday in August, and once again I was lugging a college kid's possessions up a steep flight of stairs. Even though I should know better by now, I was playing the role of beast of burden.

This month as students head back to college, many dads will find themselves in similar straits.

The first time you move your kid into college, the experience is laden with bittersweet emotions. The next couple of times, though, you are just laden with heavy objects and the feeling that somehow you should have been smart enough to dodge this duty.

I thought I was. But some of the recurring lessons of fatherhood seem to be that you are not as bright as you imagined, and that one of your most valuable contributions to family life is the ability to lift heavy objects.

Over the years, I have deposited kids both a long distance away from home, Boston University, and a few blocks from the home front, Johns Hopkins. There are disadvantages to both.

The long haul requires detailed list-making and a large vehicle with strong shock absorbers. The short hop is a much more casual affair, but more open-ended. Unlike the far-flung students who clear out their old bedrooms before heading off to a distant campus, the short hoppers tend to treat their old bedrooms as storage lockers. They don't clean them out. Instead they swoop in from time to time to scrounge through their possessions for a particular piece of clothing or CD.

My kids had lofty notions about college life, which is to say they seemed drawn to third-floor walk-ups.

The older kid lived for a time in a third-floor walk-up with a very narrow staircase near Fenway Park. This school year the younger one is living in one in Charles Village. Last Saturday, I became intimately acquainted with each step in this house as my son and I heave-hoed a large, heavy dresser up those stairs and into his room.

During this exercise, I paused from time to time to study the steep pitch and the unforgiving geometry of the staircase. Life, I concluded, was an uphill struggle.

A few nights later, I revisited the steps, this time hoisting a rolled-up, 11-foot-by-13-foot rug up the cruel incline. Soon I was sweating like a pig and puffing like a football player after start-of-the-season wind sprints.

The irony was that football players, my son's housemates, would soon be dwelling in this abode. They are fit young men. Unlike me, they could carry these pieces of furniture up the steps without entertaining thoughts of the hereafter. The trouble was that most of this young muscle had not hit town yet. The start of summer football camp, the dreaded two-a-day practices, was then several days away. Timing, it seems, in politics and heavy lifting, is everything.

As I stood on St. Paul Street getting my breath, I was approached by a passer-by, a young man with slicked-back hair and a smooth story. He told me his car, which was parked "just around the corner," was about to be towed and he needed money for gas.

I told him he was in luck, I was about to travel to a gas station. As we had begun ferrying furniture from our Bolton Hill home to my son's Charles Village digs, I had noticed that a warning light on our station wagon had blinked, indicating the car was low on fuel. At the time this had upset me. Doesn't anybody put gas in this car except me, I had muttered.

Now I told the supplicant I would take him to a gas station right after I unloaded this furniture.

That was not the answer he wanted to hear.

He mumbled something and slinked away down St. Paul looking for prey.

I may not have been bright enough to tap a house full of football players to move my kid into college, but I was clever enough to avoid falling for an old street hustle.

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