Note: The following is an excerpt from Rob Azevedo’s “Notes From The Last Breath Farm: A Music Junkies Quest To Be Heard,” dedicated to all of you who’ve launched a college freshman into the ether.
Sometime around 1990, a friend from home invited me and some friends to come up and spend the weekend at this school called Plymouth State College. I knew nothing of the town or the college. All I knew was it would be a haul for my 1981 Toyota Corolla, about 100 miles from my hometown each way. I remember that. And she coughed the entire way up and back. But weekends were made for balling so we took 93 north and chugged our way to Plymouth.
I was digging the black hills that fell to the west and the tree line to the east as we hooked turns through Tilton and New Hampton. The dark roads comforted me. I could feel my blood pressure drop for some reason. My breathing was less labored. My fingers stopped shaking, my teeth chattered less. There was just something about this area that cradled me as we cruised along and brought a calm to my senses and made me feel welcomed. The air that swam inside me as I traveled toward Exit 25 had tripped the wires in my brain and forced me to relax, stay in the moment. Watch and listen.
Again, just shut up. For once.
I was unidentifiable on those roads. That’s how I felt. I could be a trapper from New Bedford if I wanted to introduce myself as such. Maybe a webmaster from Boston working on some music sharing project. Then again, a pug-faced ninja fighter sounded okay too. I could be anything I wanted to be because my slate was clean in the Granite State. I knew nobody and nobody knew me. A stranger in a strange town. Something S.E. Hinton could really sink her teeth into. The runaway. “A-run, run, run, run, runaway…”
We hung out for a couple nights in Plymouth and I was pleasantly assaulted by the scene. Young women were EVERYWHERE! It was baffling. There was such an array of beauty that arose in my core that it imploded my mind to consider such an existence. We drank terrible beer and smoked dope out of tubes that stunk of old mouth and rotten water. I hadn’t smoked much in the past, a few driveway hits now and again just to take the edge off before heading into my house, where any mood could be hanging by a thread in the balance. But, I made fast friends with this skunky, smelly dude named “Ed.” Together, we met new faces, heard new voices styled by tongues born out of all corners of the northeast. Barely sleeping, instead opting to stay up till 4 a.m., drunk but lucid, wired at times on Ephedrine, sitting outside with a handful of strangers on a broken picnic table adding more zest to each story told, I was calm, present, living within the moment. At home, it felt, for once.
A week later, with the memories of my weekend at Plymouth State still stuck in my mind – the hills, the sticky dorms, the freedom to urinate out any backdoor, the open-aired conversations that blossomed between strangers, the erotic nature of a rare glance – those smells and sounds and sights were hammering away at me and I only wanted more of it.
That night, or soon after, I pulled one of my father’s old typewriters out of a closet, set it up on a plastic milk crate in the basement of my home and got to work. I had one letter to draft and that was to the admissions board at Plymouth State College. I didn’t even ask my parents about a transfer because there was a pretty good chance the college wouldn’t take me in … again. Why annoy my folks even more, right? How much disappointment can two people take? I was but three months into my college career at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston and I wanted out! They would have been so proud to hear the news! Such progress! I had fairly good grades up to that point in my required classes at Wentworth, but the actual engineering and math and science classes, well, that was an absolute shit show.
Plus, I don’t even like to get my hands dirty, so a degree in building and contracting likely was going to be a fail.
Approaching the letter, I wrote fearlessly, from the gut. I knew to keep it short, get some inspirational punch-up words in there when needed, do it clean, do it right. This letter needed to be more than a simple read. It needed to be heard! The admissions board needed to understand that a bachelor’s degree in English is what I really wanted at 19 years old. Not anything having to do with the blueprint of a condominium complex or the expansion of suburban sprawl. They needed to hear that although my grades were hideous in high school, a change had come over me. “A new beginning has presented itself to me in the foothills of your town and I really need you to take a shot on me. Fate requires it.”
Maybe that was the formula I was missing all these years. Instead of spending all those arduous hours of my youth trying to figure out what I wanted to be, I should have simply decided right off what I didn’t want to be. Don’t like the outdoors? Then don’t work outside. Hate people? Don’t work in an office. Fear death? Don’t become a mortician.
But mostly, I needed to put my heart into this letter and capture the attention of whoever opened it immediately. Sentence One. Go! Grip them by the throat. Stick a boot on their neck. So, I wrote the letter then tore it up. Wrote some more, tore more to shreds. I talked myself dry dictating my intentions. I bled over this proposal. I even called in the old big yellow pillow that bloodied my face while I watched Bruins games as a kid and punched at it repeatedly in frustration, sending echos of raw frustration banging off the basement paneling. The letter needed to be perfect! It needed to sell!
The letter and the application went out in the mail sometime before winter, and by the start of my last semester at Wentworth, I received a letter from Plymouth State College, welcoming me into the fold. I was elated. Finally, I felt inside like my apprenticeship from being a nothing to something had ended. This was a turning point. One where there was nobody to blame but myself if the experience ended up in the tank … again. And although I didn’t know it yet, soon I would find my calling, my own quest to be heard laid out right before me in the hills of Plymouth. It was all right there – my audience, the stories, the vices and voices that carried out those stories, all of it, right there, just ripe for the picking.
It was my time to roar.
Rob Azevedo’s book “Notes From The Last Breath Farm: A Music Junkies Quest To Be Heard” is available on Amazon and at the Bookery in Manchester.