On Campus column sig

On campus is a new column from Gavin Colton.

I’m past the years when my parents would visit three weeks into the semester to replenish my pantry with Cliff Bars and cases of Miller Lite.

But I met a mom over Family Weekend who was in town visiting her daughter. She sat down at the bar and drank vodka cranberry after vodka cranberry. Heading out to smoke, she covered her drink with a coaster, pointing at me as if to say, don’t touch my drink!

She danced to the honky-tonk guitarist on her way in again and squeezed next to me on a stool. She carried two phones; one, she said, was to text her husband and the other was for her extramarital affairs. I couldn’t tell if she was lying.

“What’s your deal?” she said, ordering a fresh drink with her finger. I was in school to write, I said. “What a load of bull,” she insisted. She asked why I was on my own at a bar on a Thursday night, not “out there.” I imagined her on a 1980s Los Angles beach wagging her hand surfer-style.

Outside, she introduced me to the guitarist and gave me a cigarette. She puffed away, ballooning her cheeks and blowing a stream of smoke into the air like the line of fumes that follow an airplane. Her luggage had been lost on her way here.

Back at the bar, I asked her what her deal was, and why she was out without her daughter — a medical school hopeful, she’d explained proudly. “Studying. She has a test tomorrow.” I sensed dejection, like she’d have loved to smuggle her 17-year-old daughter into the bar, survey Lexington nightlife with her, show her ropes where there were ropes. She showed me a photo of her, and I imagined the daughter lounged on a frail wicker chair or loose cushion on the back porch of a party — this was the first of four years of lying to her mother.

We chatted with the bartender about what to look for in a fake ID, so she could tell her daughter. She pointed to smitten couples around the bar, said I shouldn’t be like them; I have my whole life ahead of me, I shouldn’t get married young. Before long, she’d changed my address at USPS.com (a task I’d put off), picked out a pair of new glasses for me online (square frames, not round unless I wanted to looked fat-faced). We closed down the bar and she drove to the airport to collect her lost luggage, hoping to avoid a cop.

When she first mentioned that her daughter wouldn’t come out with her, I’d felt bad; she’d come all this way to hang out with her. But in the odd, alcohol-fueled way that people become friends by coincidental lonesomeness at bars, she’d mom-ed me in her daughter’s stead, taken care of the humble tasks that I’d failed on in the first few weeks, and offered me some love advice. She honked as she drove past me, swerving a little, taillights fading into the black of the road like two snuffed candles.