Going Back, Part One: Dellplain Hall

It would be hard to overstate the importance of Syracuse to my life. When I was in high school, it was essentially attendance at a summer camp at the Newhouse School, intended for high school journalists, that set and solidified the course of my life, that determined where I would go to college. In fact, it entirely introduced me to the college experience. I ended up attending Syracuse University, the only college I applied to, and immediately had life-changing experiences. Before school had even started, serving on a work study crew that supported the first Empire State Games, I met the woman who would become my best friend, my partner, my wife. I met my roommate, with whom I would live throughout our years at SU and who is still one of the most important friends in my life. I fell into a position at The Daily Orange, the daily student newspaper that would define the first two-and-a-half years of my college experience. All before classes even started.

A brochure for the School Press Institute – my introduction to Syracuse, Syracuse University, and, well, pretty much everything.

After freshman year, I never went home. I worked for summer editions of the paper for two years, becoming intimate with the rhythms of campus in the summer and the in-between weeks when there was almost no one else there. I picked up odd printing production jobs here and there. I left the paper, fell into despair, hit pause, hit play again, finished my coursework, didn’t graduate (until I did). I went into typesetting and worked in the warehouse district, walking to work through Armory Square when it still smelled of chicken packing on the walk home. We married, moved downtown for a year, then moved to Hawley-Green for six years. I went back to grad school, Maxwell this time, and found my future was going to be elsewhere. After a year with me working in one city and Lee in another, we transplanted to Albany, where we lived until 10 years ago.

But Syracuse was always fundamental, always more than just a fond memory. It was where we met, where we went everywhere together, where we fell in love, had some rough times, fell in love again, got married, and launched our lives. We were 29 when we left – we’d spent our entire twenties in the Salt City.

We would go back and visit now and then (and I went there for work even more often), but we hadn’t been there since 2014, a visit barely recalled as we were preparing to uproot ourselves and move to the Philly area. Our thinking at the time was probably that we didn’t know when we might be able to get back to Central New York – and we weren’t wrong, because it was a solid decade.

In the spirit of last year, when we decided (uncharacteristically) to throw ourselves a party to honor our 40th wedding anniversary (a party much bigger than our wedding, it should be noted), it seemed like it was time to go back and see the city we’d found each other in again.

Change was expected – it’s the modern age, after all, and we follow people in Syracuse on social media so we see what goes on. Buildings will be gone, buildings added, institutions as well. None of our friends are still there. That was all expected.

What wasn’t expected, I think, was how much really felt the same. While some of the physical environment has changed dramatically, some more subtly – so much of it felt the same. That’s probably because no matter where we are, it’s the two of us, being together.

I took a lot of pictures with the intent of throwing together a blog post about it all, hitting “publish” and moving on. But I need to acknowledge, to feel, the emotional weight of what revisiting those spaces and places meant to me, and there’s no way to do that in a single, readable post. So, I think I’m going to do it in a way that is now very familiar to me from my other ridiculous projects – one topic at a time, for as long as it takes me. Because I don’t want to just write about it, just explain it, but indeed to actually feel it.

For a little while, there’ll be an order. Then, there probably won’t. It’s easy to just walk through the places where we lived (and in truth, we didn’t get pics of all of them) – but then how do I describe the importance of the other places? I’m just gonna give it a try.

Empire State Games

So let’s start here: with the place we lived for the shortest amount of time, but: the place where we met. It’s a place called Dellplain Hall.

I took very, very few photos in my early days at SU – but one of them was of someone I don’t recognize reading in one of the Dellplain Hall lounges, probably in the midst of doing laundry. Behind the pillar is a Coke machine – cans were 20 cents then. The other machines dispensed, I believe, candy, milk, and cigarettes.

Summer 1978: Syracuse University is hosting the first edition of the Empire State Games, advertised as something of a New York State Olympics, a huge amateur athletics event covering all kinds of summer sports at the high school, college and adult level. In order to do that, to provide food service and dormitory prep, they put out the call for work study students to come to Syracuse three weeks early and join the work crews. The pay was solid, work was full-time, and the opportunity to get to college early was not to be missed, so even though it meant leaving my high school friends earlier than planned, I couldn’t miss it. On August 11, 1978, my family drove me out to Syracuse with my stolen milk crates of belongings and my own dorm fridge (more cost-effective than renting), and after a brief check-in, I was on my own in Syracuse.

The work crews were all housed in Dellplain Hall. We had roommates, assigned by chance as far as I can tell. My roommate was a kid from way out in Western New York, who had come from a graduating class of 12 and had not, apparently, ridden on an elevator before. (He didn’t last three weeks into the semester, sorry to say.) We were coed by room, but Dellplain wasn’t set up for that. Instead of making one gender or the other (it was the ’70s, we treated two as the norm) go to another floor to use the bathrooms, we were simply civilized and managed to share the communal bathroom without any problems. We were civilized, but unsupervised – there were no resident advisers or anything like that.

The first week was spent cleaning the dorms and getting them ready for the athletes who would be staying there – union work that involved sweeping carpets with brooms and learning never, ever, ever to work when you were supposed to be on break. If I recall correctly, second week or so was when the games were on, and we were assigned to food service. Syracuse at that time managed its own food service operations, instead of contracting out. I was assigned to Shaw Dining Hall, where I learned to prep salad and do cleanup, including the most disgusting job I’ve ever had, working in the dish room, where I would come away at the end of every shift bathed in a hot mist of fat globules that I could never seem to get out of my hair – and I had plenty of hair at the time, down to my shoulders. Once the games were over, there was another week of cleaning dorms. We got shuttled all over, and I got to know campus super well. There were also upperclass students on the work crews, so I got to know the drinking establishments well. I wasn’t yet 18, which was the drinking age at the time, but that presented exactly zero barriers. But this isn’t a post about my alcoholism. (If you need one, here’s a post about my alcoholism.)

The main entrance to Dellplain – looking rather plain in these days. But admire that ceramic tile ceiling!

The Elevator Party

Somewhere in the final week, a group of co-workers had the wonderful idea to hold a party in an elevator. The elevators in Dellplain were somewhat unusual, in that you could press the stop button, even keep the doors open, and no alarm would sound. Safety-wise, not cool. Party-wise, very cool. So we just kept moving from floor to floor, sitting around drinking and laughing and trying to explain the premise to surprised would-be passengers who would walk up and find their co-workers splayed out on the elevator floor. Some got it and joined us for a while, some did not. (Some found the stairs.) At some point, we ordered pizza to be delivered to the elevator. At a somewhat later point, the coaches at a high school sports camp that was also being housed in Dellplain got real pissed off at us for making noise, and we either got tossed out or left the elevator, moving the party to a staircase. (Somehow the pizza found the staircase, too.)

I’ll admit, I was there trying to get the attention of a girl named Amanda. That isn’t how it worked out. But I met a girl named Eileen (there to get the attention of a guy), who seemed sweet and funny – and it turned out that when we moved to our regular housing in a few days, we were going to be living next to each other in Day Hall, on Mount Olympus.

Going back to DellPlain, it isn’t quite the same. The building is of course emptied out for the summer – in fact, some signs on whiteboards in the lounge made us wonder if it had been open this year at all, though it doesn’t appear to be one of the dorms currently slated for demolition, and it had some renovations in recent years. What had been an expansive lawn leading down to Comstock Avenue, complete with apple trees (and with bees, most interested in the fallen apples), has now been completely taken over by a new dorm, Ernie Davis Hall, so that Dellplain isn’t even visible from Comstock anymore. It’s my understanding that late night food trucks no longer park out there on Comstock – but in the ’60s there was one called The Dingelman, and in my day there was Wimpy’s Wagon, offering late night food for drunken college students because there wasn’t anything else open for blocks.

There isn’t even a sign on what had been the main entrance in our day, so we took a picture up on the Euclid Avenue side, an entrance that wasn’t in much use back then as I recall. It was sweet to try to do a selfie and a kiss at the same time (not our specialty) – but not historically accurate. We never kissed at Dellplain. That would come later, on Mount Olympus.

That’s a story for next time.

“With every awkward kiss worlds collide” – My Sin

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