I went away to study Graphic Design at Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles when I was a skinny, shy 18-year-old. I was dragging a suitcase and kicking along a box of art supplies with my foot, slowly making my way to the curb to hail a cab. I was terrified to be alone in the heart of Los Angeles by myself. (Can you imagine? Coming from UTAH?) The dorm was right across the street from MacArthur Park (which we affectionately called MacMurder Park for the nightly killings taking place there.) I didn’t know a single soul. It was a scary-fast way to grow up and enter adulthood.
There was a broad range of characters...people so interesting and/or funny you’d swear I made them up: The rich Australian playboy whose dad ran a hotel school in Geneva and had just come via some fancy boarding school in France. The guy who walked and talked like a penguin, majored in fashion design, and almost got expelled for flushing plastic bags full of veggies down the toilet. The kind-hearted Jewish girl whose single mother was battling cancer. The smart kid from the midwest who drove his own car out, and loved to listen to bluegrass music. The couple who got kicked out of the dorms when the maids found whips and chains, and the bed smeared with whipped cream and honey. (I was like, What?) My own roommate from Chicago, who was allergic to air conditioning (Kill me now--I had to shower three times a day to survive that heat!).
That first evening, a teacher spoke to all the incoming students in the grand ballroom, attempting to educate us on being street-smart in the big city. She said she had her personal painting studio in the roughest part of town (although I honestly couldn’t imagine anyplace rougher than where we were!). She told us she kept getting stopped by panhandlers and was even mugged a couple of times on her way to the studio...until she got smart. Then, inspired with a solution only an artist would devise, she literally put together a “street-person costume” complete with bedraggled clothes, a big, baggy jacket, mismatched shoes, and an old misshapen hat she pulled way down to hide her face. She said once she started donning her “homeless outfit” to go to the studio, no one ever bothered her again!
Yeah, that first day of Design School was like crashing head-on into a train called World. But it didn’t kill me. To the contrary, I found it terrifyingly exhilarating, more like a launching pad hurling me toward real life!