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Extra College

Authored By: 
James Vescovi, English Teacher

The following is an excerpt from English teacher James Vescovi's book "Eat Now; Talk Later":

My father was the first person in the family to go to college; I was the first to go to graduate school. While my grandparents were proud of my father’s achievement, they were totally baffled by mine. Tony and Desolina Vescovi, Italians who’d immigrated to New York in 1930, had had to quit school after fourth grade to work on their farms. They’d always thought that college was as high as a human could go.

            Desolina, said, “You mean you went to college for four years and now you can go higher?” 

            “That’s right,” I replied.                                                        

            “What more can you learn after four years?” she asked, eyeing me skeptically. 

            What was I going to tell her? That I was going to deconstruct Shakespeare’s plays?

            “Desolina, what’s the matter with you?!” my grandfather shouted from the couch, where he’d just awoken from his post-lunch snooze.  “Jimmy is going to extra college! Capito? Extra college!” 

             And so my graduate work at Columbia University was always referred to as “extra college.”

            “God bless America!” Tony added.

            Tony and Desolina attended my commencement with great pride.  At one point, I turned around from the graduate section to look for them. My father was talking to Desolina, wildly gesturing with his hands. As he spoke, his movements got more emphatic. He looked annoyed. 

            Later, in a cab on the way to a restaurant, I asked him what he’d been saying. 

            He sighed. “I was trying to explain the idea of extra college, he replied.”

            A week later, my grandmother, still suspicious by this “extra college” business, asked me what I was now going to do. My plans of going for a Ph.D. had been jettisoned.  In no uncertain terms, my Columbia professors had let it be known that I was not doctoral timber. I had landed a job at a real estate trade magazine. Since that was too confusing to explain, I simply said, “journalista.” That was close enough, I thought. 

            She looked at me with disbelief and said, “You think this is big thing?” 

            I had thought the profession would sound rather impressive to these peasants, but obviously I was mistaken. 

            I had to defend myself. “Well, but a journalista is a very important job....”

            She scoffed at that idea.  She grunted, “Extra college and now you are going to be a journalista?”

            It took about five minutes to realize that Desolina thought I was going work in a newsstand—like one that peddles newspapers, magazines, and Chicklets on 34th Street and Seventh Avenue. 

            No, I am going to write the stories, I explained.  I got a copy of the local Italo-American paper, Il Progresso, and pointed to a by-line.

            “My name will go here,” I said.

            Desolina seemed satisfied, but not entirely.