In her 2009 self-titled autobiography, Cloris Leachman tells about her complicated friendship with fellow actor Marlon Brando. From everything I’ve ever read about Marlon, he himself was an extremely complicated person. Alas, Cloris writes the following:
“I remember our salad days at the Actors Studio, the shining young things we were then, so brimming with anticipation, so unaware of the startling events that lay ahead.” (page 110)
Both their sons got involved in drugs and died due to the effects, for starters re: “startling events.” And then Marlon held a grudge against Cloris when she didn’t send condolences after his son died, but that’s their story to tell. It had been a long time since I’d heard the expression “salad days,” and I’ve coincidentally been feeling downright elderly this week hobbling around due to a fungus infection on my left foot. Totally gross, I realize, but a PSA for anyone who steps on anything to immediately disinfect it with an antibiotic. (I stepped on a tiny piece of glass a couple of weeks ago and that’s all I can think of that might’ve caused this nightmare. Three doctor’s visits later, it’s being slowly but surely treated.) But back on track: I looked up the expression after enjoying Cloris’s eloquent use of it, and I began wondering when my own salad days had been. “Before or after 9/11?” immediately rang through my mind as a deciding factor. I looked through some vintage photos on Facebook and found the one above. So I’ll share about my own approximation of my salad days at the ripe ol’ age of 22.
It took me a few–and I do mean three or four or five–stops and starts to decide I really wanted to be in college. By 2002, I was holding down a part-time job at the Ramada Inn in my hometown and also taking three or four classes. I found after trying school full-time and working full-time that this hybrid of both worked well for my psyche and work ethic. Anyway, I’d just won Employee of the Month at the Ramada and had just had a letter to the editor published in InStyle magazine, which for whatever naive reason I considered to be the creme de la creme of magazines at the time. Armed with that issue of the magazine and my sarcastic excitement about “being published,” I accompanied my mother up to the University of Georgia for a conference she was attending on campus. I set up meetings with an advisor at the journalism school to discuss transferring and majoring in Magazines. (A dozen years later, I wonder if that slightly antiquated major still exists.) The advisor seemed happy with the writing samples I’d e-mailed her and my transcript that I’d brought along. She showed me a huge bulletin board where jobs were posted, specifically seeking out graduates of the UGA journalism program. I was so giddy I remember asking her back in her office if writing professionally was anything like how Sarah Jessica Parker made it look on Sex & the City. The advisor laughed and told me I’d find out soon enough.
Everything was going according to plan until there was a hold-up with one of my transcripts getting to UGA. My tech school transcript covering a whole quarter of non-transferrable credits, at that. Having missed the deadline for transferring the semester I had my heart set on, I gave up the dream of being a UGA student. I could still write, I told myself. I could still get one of the jobs on that bulletin board without the UGA degree. Or any degree at all? The salad days were surely over. I wondered from time to time how things might’ve been different if I’d not given up so easily on transferring. One of the jobs I’d seen on that big bulletin board was for one of Martha Stewart’s niche magazines, so in my mind I would’ve moved up to Yankee country and snagged that job. Wishful thinking at best, and I laugh now to think if that magazine is even still around after Martha’s fall from grace.
The funny thing is, now that I’ve revisited that time in my life, there wasn’t much salad-y about it. Maybe for a few weeks it seemed I was on top of the world, but then plans fell through and it was back to the grind at the Ramada. Well then, were my salad days in Nashville after I left my hometown behind? I’m not so sure about that either. They certainly weren’t when I drank myself through finally finishing my English degree a few years ago in the suburbs of Atlanta. Being on the verge of turning 34, I think I’ll stop here and politely ask for the fat-free Caesar dressing to be passed my way. Turns out my salad days aren’t behind me yet.