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Saturday, April 27, 2013

thanks, pals

So here we are.

Twenty years ago, right around this time, my life changed. 

I didn’t know it was changing at the time. That’s the thing about life changes - you don’t often feel their effects for a long time. But I can pinpoint the spring of 1993 as a real turning point for me. In that time, I won an award for a comedy video featuring puppets that I’d written, produced, and performed in which inadvertently led to my auditioning for the Jim Henson Company, which ran parallel to my being thrust into the life of the man who would become my husband... and six months later, I’d be living in New York City with him, starting my new life trying to get on the very bottom rung of the showbiz ladder.

And none of the cherished Muppet and Sesame and Broadway pals I have today would be in my life at all without my dear friends from twenty years ago: my dormmates at Northwestern, the alums of a place called CRC. 

But twenty years ago, I dreaded change. I was too close to graduating, too close to being pushed off the cliff into the abyss of real life, and too close to leaving all of my pals behind. I feared things would never be the same again. I was right about that. Things would never be the same again. That is both good and bad.

CRC, or the Communications Residential College, was less a dorm and more like a co-ed fraternity-meets-artistic-commune, filled with like-minded, supportive souls who were up for any adventure as long as it was creative and had the promise of fun. Shoot a video at three in the morning in the stairwell? Come on to a freeform campus radio show and play silly characters for an audience of six? Start a really bad band? Yes, yes and hell yes.

And best of all, it was the one place where I felt totally at home and completely, unconditionally accepted.

I got fat and fatter in college. I was trapped in a horrible perm cycle (get a perm, start to grow it out, oh crap I can’t wait that long for it to grow out, get another perm). And while I do blame myself for my own actions that led to these results, I also partially blame my dorm pals... because none of them ever mentioned it to me. And I love them for that. None of them ever openly judged me for my appearance, which also included less and less makeup and darker and darker undereye circles with each passing year. All that mattered was the fun.

And for me, at that time, the fun meant that I was trying to create a sketch comedy show with some misshapen little puppets I’d built, as a way to truly test the waters of television puppetry as a possible career path. Other people outside of my dorm laughed at this, family included. They scoffed. They chortled. 

Not my CRC pals. They dove right in with me, giving me their evenings and their talents and their support, all in the name of fun. And I look back on photos of those people who worked on the project with me and I think of who they’ve become in the past twenty years: the sitcom writers and the entertainment pundits, the novelists and musicians, the journalists and professors, the editors and artists. They have huge Twitter followings, they run their own companies, they invent and create and crew, and they are doing incredible things with their lives. And I was lucky enough to have them on my team once upon a time, to believe in me and to never once look at me funny as I pounded down pint after pint of Ben and Jerry’s. 

Everyone should have an experience like that. Everyone should have friends like that. 

But that was twenty years ago, and like I said, things would soon never be the same again after we all went our separate ways. Change trumps all, and sure, these brilliant souls had to move on with their lives, creating careers and children, and becoming the well-respected people they are today. But I miss them all, and I miss our crazy little commune with its constant promise of adventures, when we were nothing but brand-new voters.

For more than a thousand performances of Avenue Q, on and off Broadway, I sang “I Wish I Could Go Back to College,” and every single time I did, I thought of these people. They’d helped to give me that time on stage, my years under Muppets, my life in New York, without even knowing it at the time. (None of us knew anything at the time. That was the beauty of it. Sometimes I miss being that naïve.)

So today, twenty years after the ball of my future started rolling, I find it appropriate to post this little musing as a thank you to those dear friends, and as a reminder to the rest of you readers to take a moment to cherish the high-quality souls in your life who accept you as you are. 

To sum up in a bumper sticker fashion: Real friends believe in you, but mostly they let you eat as much ice cream as you want.

Yes indeed. Welcome to me.


  1. Yes, yes, and HELL yes. And when the Communications Residential Retirement Home opens up in 30 more years, we are so there.

  2. What am I saying? Of course it would be called the Communications Retirement College.

  3. There better be a gummable version of Danz cookies at this home or I'm out.

  4. I love you, too, Steph. My life is infinitely better for having spent even a moment with you. Also, I had no idea that you were fat and had a perm. You were you, and you were awesome, and what else mattered, or matters even now?

    And Pang-ni: Danz is gone--GONE!--but I have found this nice recipe for something alarmingly similar in size, flavor, and convenience:

  5. For those readers who couldn't already guess, yes, all of the comments above are from said beloved pals. See what I mean? I am a lucky girl, and I truly look forward to a Communications Retirement College because by then we'll be churning out the warm chocolate chip cookies on 3D printers in our computer lab. Yes, we'll still have a computer lab, because that's where all the CGI and stop-motion animation will get done.

  6. Reading this, I'm 20 again. Thanks for sharing this memory!

  7. CRC was absolutely the best of the college experience. When I listen to my colleagues talk about their boring college frat parties I keep my own college memories to myself. They wouldn't believe me anyway.

  8. This is such a spot on description of my time there. I lived there after you did, Stephanie, but I knew how beloved you were (are!) almost immediately after I arrived. Hope to see you at the reunion this fall.

  9. I still have an autographed photo of Fluffy Lahala in a frame somewhere that makes me smile every time I see it. People always ask -- WHAT IS THAT? Oh, you'd never understand...

  10. Thanks to whomever must have re-posted this, and to all the recent commenters (both CRC pals and CRC residents I never met but are pals by proxy) for their kind words… East Fairchild sure did nurture some fine folk.