The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus. In
single file they eased around the orange I-beam sculpture and moved toward the dormitories. The
roofs of the station wagons were loaded down with carefully secured suitcases full of light and
heavy clothing; with boxes of blankets, boots and shoes, stationery and books, sheets, pillows,
quilts; with rolled-up rugs and sleeping bags, with bicycles, skis, rucksacks, English and Western
saddles, inflated rafts. As cars slowed to a crawl and stopped, students sprang out and raced to the
rear doors to begin removing the objects inside; the stereo sets, radios, personal computers; small
refrigerators and table ranges; the cartons of phonograph records and cassettes; the hairdryers and
styling irons; the tennis rackets, soccer balls, hockey and lacrosse sticks, bows and arrows; the
controlled substances, the birth control pills and devices; the junk food still in shopping bags-
onion-and-garlic chips, nacho thins, peanut creme patties, Waffelos and Kabooms, fruit chews
and toffee popcorn; the Dum-Dum pops, the Mystic mints.
I've witnessed this spectacle every September for twenty-one years. It is a brilliant event,
invariably. The students greet each other with comic cries and gestures of sodden collapse. Their
summer has been bloated with criminal pleasures, as always. The parents stand sun-dazed near
their automobiles, seeing images of themselves in every direction. The conscientious suntans.
The well-made faces and wry looks. They feel a sense of renewal, of communal recognition. The
women crisp and alert, in diet trim, knowing people's names. Their husbands content to measure
out the time, distant but ungrudging, accomplished in parenthood, something about them
suggesting massive insurance coverage. This assembly of station wagons, as much as anything
they might do in the course of the year, more than formal liturgies or laws, tells the parents they
are a collection of the like-minded and the spiritually akin, a people, a nation.
I left my office and walked down the hill and into town. There are houses in town with turrets
and two-story porches where people sit in the shade of ancient maples. There are Greek revival
and Gothic churches. There is an insane asylum with an elongated portico, ornamented dormers
and a steeply pitched roof topped by a pineapple finial. Babette and I and our children by
previous marriages live at the end of a quiet street in what was once a wooded area with deep
ravines. There is an expressway beyond the backyard now, well below us, and at night as we
settle into our brass bed the sparse traffic washes past, a remote and steady murmur around our
sleep, as of dead souls babbling at the edge of a dream.
I am chairman of the department of Hitler studies at the College-on-the-Hill. I invented Hitler
studies in North America in March of 1968. It was a cold bright day with intermittent winds out
of the east. When I suggested to the chancellor that we might build a whole department around
Hitler's life and work, he was quick to see the possibilities. It was an immediate and electrifying
success. The chancellor went on to serve as adviser to Nixon, Ford and Carter before his death on
a ski lift in Austria.
At Fourth and Elm, cars turn left for the supermarket. A policewoman crouched inside a boxlike
vehicle patrols the area looking for cars parked illegally, for meter violations, lapsed inspection
stickers. On telephone poles all over town there are homemade signs concerning lost dogs and
cats, sometimes in the handwriting of a child.
Don DeLillo, White Noise, Picador 1989, pp. 3-4