Odyssey of a College Ring
When I slipped my college ring on my finger for the first time, I held it up in the air, watched rays of sun bounce off the scarlet stone; it was a ceremonial gesture encapsulating a six year journey towards two college degrees during the tumultuous sixties. It was 1969. Thoughts were I was the graduate now, socially and culturally different from Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock. Too much was happening to my awareness: Vietnam, Civil Rights, Feminism, Ban the Bomb, Eye on the Prize and the Environment. I wore my Rutgers University ring proudly, often easily removing it (I still had skinny fingers, far from middle age) and looked at the inscription: Calvin Schwartz Pharmacy 1969. That same year, along came a wedding ring on the other hand but my college ring was strangely more poignant for me; perhaps a sixth sense of a more enduring permanency. Four years later, the wedding ring became a key chain adornment while my college ring still glistened in the sun.
Two years later, I immersed myself in the 1976 single scene winding up at Club Med Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean for a week; nude beaches, waterfalls, endless bars, basketball, tropical fruits and vegetables and a pretty cool crowd; several hockey players from the Montreal Canadiens. Lingering thoughts of my someday playing professional basketball propelled me into the azure blue waters of the Caribbean to play water polo against Rick Chartraw and Glen Goldup, two big strong professional athletes. As the opposing goalie, I held my own, defended with the best of them until a watery scuffle in front of my goal. Skinny fingers relinquished my ring in four foot deep water. The game halted and we all looked for my precious ring. I stayed for hours probing with my toes. The sun set on my despair and profound loss. I could never replace it.
A year later my last wedding ring, an apartment in Brooklyn and finally a house in suburban New Jersey with a son. Cut to 1997 and a warm late spring day in glorious Monmouth County. A phone rings; it’s the alumni office of Rutgers University. “Are you Calvin Schwartz, Class of 1969 Pharmacy?” I joke, “I’m the only of those names in all of New Jersey.” “We have a letter here post marked Paris, France, addressed to our alumni office but it’s written in French and the only thing we can make out is “Calvin Schwartz, Pharmacy 1969.” My mind races with firing ganglionic precision; I know no one in Paris or France but uncertainty about life’s mysteries causes me to comically ask, “Does the word ‘bebe’ appear anywhere. It’s French for baby.” “No,” Rutgers answers. I often wonder why they never enlisted help from the French department; perhaps it deepens the mystery.
The next day at high noon, I sat in the alumni office with the letter, piecing together ideas and words from my two years of high school French. I asked the Rutgers alumni guy if he picked up on my baby humor from the day before. Not a smile did I generate so it was back to the letter. A few words glared at me. Then a wave of comprehension; the French letter writer, Pierre, spent two weeks in Guadeloupe recently and found my ring in the Caribbean Sea and decided to try and return it because of the inscription inside the ring.
You’d think in suburban Monmouth County, New Jersey that every street has a house where a resident can read and write French. Months later, I finally got the original letter translated and wrote a reply back to Paris even offering a reward for the ring’s safe return. Autumn leaves were turning to brown before a reply came back from Paris. And the first winter snow of late December left a Currier and Ives reminder on the landscape that Christmas and New Year’s were a week away when I got the last letter from Pierre translated.
Another cut to March, 2012. Fifteen years later and still no college ring. Communication had broken down with Pierre. Reminds me why the Kytoto protocol (greenhouse gas emissions) has still not been signed; language barriers? Pierre wanted to personally deliver the ring and hang out here for a few weeks and needed a guide to New York City as well. Somehow the ring had lost something of value.
Perhaps the odyssey might come alive again. HooplaHa is world-wide. Pierre sees this article. And the dream goes on.