When I was in college I made one friend. One.
College is the time to meet lots of new people, have lots of new experiences and learn lots of new things. Just not in my case. College was nothing like high school. In high school, I had a group of funny friends, the prettiest girlfriend in the world and, hopefully, a bright future ahead.
My college days were filled with loneliness, anxiety, self-doubt, heartbreak and fear.
“How is this all going to work out?”
“How am I ever going to get a job?”
“How am I ever going to be able to get a mortgage?”
“How am I ever going to grow up?”
In September 1985, I began my freshman year at the University of Delaware. I didn’t live on campus – I lived at home and commuted to school – a 35 mile trip from Smyrna, Delaware to Newark, Delaware. My major was Art.
Back then, the first classes that all UD art majors took in their freshman year fall semester were “Foundations I – Design” and “Foundations I – Drawing”. In the Spring, you took “Foundations II – Design” and “Foundations II – Drawing.” On Fridays, you had a “Foundations” lecture with all the art majors in one room. In your sophomore year, you chose a concentration – Visual Communications, Painting, Illustration, Ceramics, Sculpture, etc.
The first thing that all art majors learn is although they may have been the best artist in their high school, here at college they’re just one of many talented 18-year-olds and your fellow freshmen are just as good if not better than you.
I clearly remember my first day. It was a Friday. My first class was a “Foundations” lecture…and it was canceled! “Aw man, college is great! My first class in canceled. This is nothing like high school”, I said with joy.
The next week, classes weren’t canceled and that joy was short-lived, replaced with reality. “This is nothing like high school – this is serious, this is no joke”. As a former class clown, those were tough words to say. The work was serious, the professors were serious, my fellow art majors were serious. During weekly critiques, the professors would stress “You have to learn to live with rejection.” And we did.
As a commuting art student, you spend quite a bit of time going back and forth to your car to get supplies, drop off supplies, eat your lunch in between classes and pick up your backpack full of books for your academic classes. It was on one such trip to my car that I met Nick Eveleigh.
He was sitting confidently in his Triumph TR7 listening to the radio with his window rolled down and wearing a confident smirk on his face. I recognized him – he was an art major too! “Hey man”, he said. “Hey, what’s up”, I replied as I stopped at his car. We began talking and I learned he was a commuter too.
Even though I was a class clown in high school, I was actually painfully shy, introverted and not one to make new friends easily. But there was something about this dude that made me stop and chat with him. Maybe it was the fact that he had a badass English car (who has a Triumph TR7?! Google it and see what I mean), maybe it was the confident smirk (maybe this guy is funny like me?) or maybe it was just the fact that he was in my art classes and I needed a friend.
After that, we hung out almost everyday on campus after art class during our freshman year. We’d go eat pizza at Space II Pizza (he always called it Moon Pizza because that’s what it said on their roof – don’t ask!), we’d hang out in the record stores (Wonderland Records, I Like It Like That Records) and we’d hit the arcade every now and then. During those times, I learned a lot about my new friend. His family was from England, his parents both spoke with British accents, he watched the same TV shows as I did (Late Night with David Letterman, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Prisoner), liked the same music, he went to McKean High School, he was a part-time referee for soccer games, he also worked at times at the UD ice rink driving the zamboni – this guy was cool.
Let me give you an example of this guy’s coolness (and creativity): Once he had an assignment to do something with color. I can’t remember the exact specifics of the project – he just had to make a profound statement with color. The day of the assignment, he woke up at 5am, drove to UD with a large amount of bright yellow paint and a paint roller. He stealthily approached a green dumpster in front of one of the art buildings and proceeded to paint it yellow! Everyone saw it that day when they came to class with their projects in color. Everyone! He made the biggest statement that day. I think he got an “A”.
Another example of his coolness was in 1987 when he overheard one of my Smyrna friends say how much he wanted one of those yellow caution road signs of a pedestrian crossing the street to hang in his dorm room. A few weeks later, Nick gave him one of the signs. I have no idea how he did it – but he did it.
Oh, and he was a photographer. A great photographer. He had his future all planned out – he was going to go to UD, major in art, specialize in Visual Communications (Photography) and go to New York City and become a big time photographer. The only thing I had planned out was that I was going to be watching “Doctor Who” on PBS on Saturday nights and talk to my girlfriend on the phone several times a week. Compared to him, I was a mess – but I had found myself a great role model, someone to look up to, someone to admire, someone to show me the way. Someone to show me that it’s ok to be funny sometimes, but at another times, you have to be serious about your art.
After our freshman year, we took different routes. Nick did what he said he was going to – join the Visual Communication program and specialize in Photography. I chose Illustration and later changed to Painting. (The students in my Illustration classes were incredible! Still to this day I have no idea how they could draw so perfectly – I was by far the worst in my class even though I was the best in my class in high school.)
We’d try our best to do stuff together in our sophomore and junior years – he would make the drive to Smyrna and we’d drink a few beers with my high school friends on summer break, I spent the night at his house once and drank a few beers watching movies on VHS, and we’d hit “Moon Pizza” every now and then. Our busy (and very different) schedules prevented us from meeting up like we used to as freshman – and as in all things, as time went by, we saw less and less of each other.
As art majors, we’d go to New York City twice a year on trips. The entire art department would go by bus and walk the streets of Manhattan from 10am to 10pm visiting museums and bars. Those are my fondest memories of that time. I was with Nick the first time I got served alcohol (at the Alpine Tavern), the first time I went into a liquor store and bought alcohol (a bottle of Brass Monkey for the ride home) and the first time I ever drank Bass beer (at The Irish Pub). It was also on one of these trips that Nick helped me when I needed a friend the most. The pretty girlfriend that I spoke of earlier dumped me the day before one of these NYC trips and I was devastated. Crushed. Nick spent the whole day with me telling me to “get over it, man!”, “screw her!”, “be a man!”…it was exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes a friend has to be a big brother when you don’t have one, or has to be a father when you don’t have one. Thanks, Nick. (You have to learn to live with rejection.)
After that breakup, I began to neglect my college studies and spent more time hanging around my old high school friends – I spent fewer and fewer hours on campus and spent more time partying my blues away in my hometown…going nowhere fast.
We went to New York City on our own once. In January 1988, Nick got two tickets to attend the “Late Night with David Letterman’s 6th Anniversary Special” at Radio City Music Hall. I have no idea how he did it – but he did it. That was a night to remember. We rode up in his TR7 and my memory is that we had great seats. To watch the special, click here. We’re in the audience somewhere.
In the spring of 1988, I was off in my “feeling sorry for myself Painting world” and Nick was living in his “making a name for himself Photography world” and those two worlds didn’t collide as much any more – except one day.
Nick found me on campus somewhere and said “You gotta come with me.” The Visual Communications students were going to the movies – and Nick was going to sneak me in. One of the department heads of the VC department at UD was Ray Nichols. This guy used to throw student’s projects out of the second story window if he thought they were crap – very intimidating. But he was just preparing his students for the “real world” and what life is like as a creative professional. (You have to learn to live with rejection.)
As a treat and also as an educational field trip, Nichols booked The State Theater on Main Street for an afternoon showing of The Monkees’ 1968 film “Head” for his students to enjoy. “Head” is a psychedelic, visual experience that was co-written and co-produced by struggling young actor Jack Nicholson, before he became a Hollywood star. Nick knew I liked The Monkees and that this film was nothing like their 1966-1968 tv show. In 1988, you couldn’t see “Head” anywhere. It was never shown on television, you couldn’t rent it, and you sure couldn’t download it or stream it. I had always wanted to check it out.
I was not one of Nichols’ students, however, but Nick was determined to get me into the theater. “What’s the worst that can happen? He’ll yell at you and kick you out in front of the entire VC class,” he said with a laugh. (You have to learn to live with rejection.)
The State Theater was a Newark, Delaware landmark. It was famous for its weekend midnight showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” where fans would come dressed in costume and throw rice at the screen. It was built about 1929 and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. I had always wanted to go inside and this was my chance. I could see a film I’ve always to see in a theater I always wanted to visit.
That afternoon, I quietly mingled into the crowd of students that all walked together from Recitation Hall Annex to the State Theater trying my best to blend in and not be noticed. But Nichols knew every one of his students like the back of the hand that would toss artwork out of windows – he spotted me sitting in the theater next to Nick before the start of the movie. “Oh great, now he’s going to toss me out onto the street. It’s a good thing I learned to live with rejection.”
But he didn’t say anything. He just smiled and nodded his head as to say “I know you’re here, I know you don’t belong here, but enjoy the show.” Nick got me in there – I have no idea how he did it – but he did it.
That was one of the last times I hung out with my friend Nick before graduation. Senior year had arrived and our busy lives took over. I’ll never forget that day – the day we were still young, still close friends.
After graduation, Nick did exactly what he planned, he left for New York City (that place where I bought my first bottle of Brass Monkey and that place where I went after having my heart broken by that pretty girl). He did become a successful photographer…one with a background in editorial and advertising photography. Today he specializes in high-end museum and gallery artworks, auction house property and luxury goods.
After graduation, he trained with some of the best photographers in New York City including Craig Cutler, Lynn Goldsmith and Michel Tcherevkoff before starting his own successful studio working with The New York Times, Bloomberg, Time, Newsweek, Men’s Health, Barrons, Money, Kipplingers, Forbes, Cigar Aficionado and others. His advertising clients include many of the top agencies such as: McCann Worldgroup, TBWA/Chiat/Day, Gray Global, Digitas, Ogilvy, Saatchi & Saatchi and Kirshenbaum Bond and Partners.
He got married in 1995 and has two great kids and he currently lives in New Jersey and commutes to work in Manhattan. I wonder if he ever wishes he could commute in his old TR7 – I bet he does and I bet he wears a confident smirk on his face as he thinks of those old days.
After graduation, I became a graphic designer for ten years and then a photojournalist for another ten. Now, I’m a painter. In the 90’s, I even got back together with that pretty girlfriend from the 80’s – but she dumped me again. But that’s another story for another time. (You have to learn to live with rejection.)
“It did all work out.”
“I did manage to get a great job.”
“I did get a mortgage and built a beautiful house.”
“And I did grow up.”
I have no idea how I did it – I just did it. Wait, that’s not true. I know how I did it. With the help and guidance of good friends like Nick that also just happen to be good role models. That’s how.
I saw Nick again in 1999 when we went to a Yankees game together. He gave me some more good advice that day and a few good laughs as well. We still keep in touch via Facebook every now and then.
The State Theater was demolished in 1989. Ray Nichols retired from teaching at UD in 2006 after a 32-year career helping the Visual Communications department earn a highly respected national reputation. And Jack Nicholson has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards making him the most nominated male actor in the Academy’s history winning three. Thanks State Theater, thanks Mr. Nichols and thanks Mr. Nicholson.
And thanks to you Nick for being the only friend I ever made at college. I couldn’t have picked a better one.
Visit eveleigh.com to view Nick’s photographic work. It’s incredible.