My Saturday night

At least I didn't spend my night in a van

At least I didn't spend my night in a van (the pic is courtesy of a company called

How late is too late? Tonight I’d arranged to meet someone who claimed, via email, that he didn’t care if we met late or early. Oh, my literal mind. After a long day of work I faffed around, making food and fiddling with work-things before getting ready. I thought my pal would be okay if we pushed our plans backwards because I was travelling to his area to meet him, so I texted to say I was running late. That was fine. Then I got ready. Then I received a second, wonderfully perceptive text, saying that if I still hadn’t left the house (and I hadn’t) we should probably reschedule.

I feel chastened. And I have an answer to my question. If you’re running two hours late, then, well, you’re too late. So here I am, sitting at my computer, and typing away, on my equivalent of a Saturday night. I guess there’s a lesson there…

However, this does give me an opportunity to post about an intriguing, and I think rather brilliant article that I just read on, by a guy called Ken Ilgunas. Ilgunas is a grad student who lives in a van on college grounds at Duke university, cooking and sleeping there, and showering at the college gym, as part of an effort to avoid going into debt. Duke is one of those US schools that costs an unbelievable $37,000 per year if you don’t have a scholarship or support. It’s well known for having a macho ethos too — its Lacross team was part of an infamous rape scandal a couple of years ago (the players were vindicated).

The masculine atmosphere floating around Duke may explain Ilgunas’ “first man” pose. But even if you think he’s posturing the guy has done something kind of wild. Few people these days would choose to live without heating or a proper water system or, as Ilgunas mentions, an iphone — I wonder if he will buy one soon.

What I really love about the piece is the style. In the era of online, speed-driven writing, there’s something attractively old-fashioned about Ilgunas’ English lit-y tone  (it was no surprise to learn he’s an English major). His use of words like “oftentimes” and “cursed” is poetic even as it’s ironic. He’s not the first student to choose a strange, temporary dwelling over digs — a decade ago I remember hearing of an NYU student who made his home in a library to save money — but he’s able to do it in good literary form.

Here’s the “cursed” bit. It’s overwrought and self-indulgent, but sometimes overwrought works:

“New, strange, unidentifiable smells greeted me each evening. Upon opening the side doors, a covey of odors would escape from the van like spirits unleashed from a cursed ark.”

The guy also has a point. US college fees simply astonish me. Most if not all private institutions  charge upwards of $35,000 per year. Students or their parents cough up the cash without a squeak of protest, and if they take out loans that’s just what they do. I study at NYU, where each course costs $5,000, and an MA involves taking nine courses. I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, have done it without a bursary.  Expense makes American education exclusive in the worst ways.

So despite his youthful self-absorption, I raise my glass to Ken Ilgunas. Metaphorically, as I sit at my computer.


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