One Year Later

by Hank Leukart | 6/9/02 5:00am

Upon graduating last year, I had everything all figured out. I planned to spend the summer working at a film studio in Santa Monica, then take a quick vacation traveling Europe, and finally start working for Microsoft in Seattle in the fall.

Of course, the week after I threw my mortarboard into the air, I decided to skip out of the film internship, and I instead flew to New York City. In the true spirit of New York, I moved with my best friend into an apartment in Times Square that sat across from both the family-friendly musical "Kiss Me Kate" and a strip club called Private Eyes. I couldn't get my friend to enter either establishment. Apparently, the only thing he hated more than exotic dancers was musicals.

National Rental Car built their entire business upon me that summer. No sooner had I sworn never to return to the Big Green, I ended up making the four-hour trek in a no-power-steering Geo Metro every other weekend to visit the girlfriend with whom I had "definitely" planned to break up before graduation. Life lesson number one: when you think you have everything all figured out, you don't.

The summer was one of the most entertaining of my life, with frequent trips to New York, Dartmouth, Maine, Vermont and Pennsylvania. I discovered that Dartmouth is an immensely enjoyable place -- when there are no classes to worry about.

I was sitting on a beach in Nice, France when planes flew into the World Trade Center, but I didn't even hear the news until the next day. Even then, when I saw a French newspaper with the headline "L'Apocalypse!" I thought those exaggerating European tabloids had struck again. I flew back to the States three days later and then moved to Seattle, where it proceeded to rain -- without stopping -- for four months. Life lesson number two: don't bother making any plans; the world is too unpredictable.

When I arrived in Seattle, I had grand plans for my new life in the real world: buy a big television, get an apartment and cool furniture and invest in a new car -- in that order. Determined not to stray from my plans this time, I first bought a 63-inch wide-screen television and proceeded to try to put it and all of my furniture in a one-bedroom apartment. Life lesson number three: moderation and the order of planned events are very important.

When I realized that the people responsible for those little white envelopes in my mailbox wanted me to send them money, I discovered that Microsoft Money and Quicken (my computer's money management software) are lifesavers. Microsoft Money is my new mom. Money told me that my old car works fine, and I don't need a new one. Money told me to stop spending so much money at Starbucks. Money told me to put some money in my savings account; "Pay yourself first," Money says. Money could tell me to put my life savings into Argentinean farm land, and I would dutifully oblige.

In a new-to-me city pulsing with almost four million people, one might think that the chance of making new, close friends would be high and the chance of running into lost ex-girlfriends would be low. Life lesson number four: it's the other way around, and the real friendships don't usually begin at bars or dance clubs.

The people you meet at college end up having wildly divergent lives after graduation. I field phone calls almost every night of the week to help deal with lives and the crises found therein.

Some nights, my friend who is working on planting a new church in Colorado calls to complain about his job laying electrical cable and running the scoreboard at a local sports arena. He's looking for a new job and a girlfriend, but his commitment to his church stays strong.

Sometimes, I call my screenwriting friend to discuss her latest script. She's deferring her acceptance to Harvard Law School for another year, hoping to become the next David Mamet. Meanwhile, she helps tutor Steven Spielberg's son at his elementary school.

On game days, I grab cheap Mariners tickets with a guy who recently graduated from both Harvard and a three-year relationship with his girlfriend. He too is looking for that special someone and filling his time working for a small software company.

Other days, I end up at a restaurant with a Dartmouth friend who's currently relaxing for a year before attending to Johns Hopkins Medical School. She regales me with stories of being attacked by her students (she works at a local Seattle elementary school) and vacations to Thailand and communist Laos.

And of course, on almost every night of the week, I talk to the girlfriend I "definitely" broke up with on graduation.

Microsoft Money doesn't like any of this. It keeps telling me to stop using up my cell phone minutes. So, over the weekend, I usually turn off my cell phone to give myself some time to gallivant around Seattle, searching for new friends while attempting to avoid those pesky old girlfriends.

Pretending to be an adult is strange, especially when you work at a place like Microsoft. I can go to the doctor and ask for malaria pills and smallpox vaccines and he doesn't even ask me for any money, thanks to this magical thing called health insurance. I bought a respectable wardrobe to wear to work, only to discover that if you go to work at Microsoft not wearing a ragged T-shirt and cut-off jeans from the 1980s, everyone assumes you must be gay.

I once heard that Bill Gates liked one of my ideas, and it made me ecstatic. I used to think of Bill Gates as evil. I listen to NPR every day driving home and learn about Palestine and This American Life. A mere four years ago, I thought NPR was boring.

Words like "401K" and "product cycle" have become commonplace, while words like "Blitz" and "The Green" have left my vocabulary completely. I even have friends now who are married or engaged, and every time the alumni magazine arrives in the mail, it serves more as a list of wedding announcements than as a Dartmouth update.

Life lesson number five: everything you think you know will eventually be reversed.

And now, here I am drinking a quintessential iced chai outside Seattle's Best Coffee in the hip Capitol Hill neighborhood. A guy with a haircut out of "The Breakfast Club" and white Velcro tennis shoes has found some poor soul to listen to his understanding of life and quantum mechanics.

"I find it very difficult to find people who have traveled through hyperspace using conventional tools, as I have," he's saying. "There is a box sitting on this table, but it's only visible in a hyper-dimension."

Obviously, this guy has everything all figured out. I wish I did.

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