I can't talk about the living room without first mentioning the Taylor Lautner poster. This wonderful decorative element was introduced at the beginning of my senior year. Before that, we residents of the Writers House had done relatively little to decorate the living room. To start to give you a picture of the space, it's a carpeted room with more furniture than people who live in the house, with its two wooden tables, three wooden chairs, blue couch with room for three sitters, two large matching blue armchairs, and in the winter a porch swing (also seating three) that would normally belong on the front porch. The living room has long had a few decorations. There are some framed images of old literary magazine covers produced at the university. There is a weird metal panel (I don't know what else to call it) with a deer on it covering what was once the fireplace. There's a ceramic Santa Claus that sits on the bookshelf or the ledge above the ex-fireplace and holds a paintbrush, a mysterious vision leading some to speculate that our world is an artwork of his creation. There was sometimes a green Christmas stocking with a big "H" on it that I put there, and not once did anyone leave me a treat in it, so maybe my housemates weren't so great after all, and also Santa isn't real. That's how I remember the physical characteristics of the living room up until we put up the Taylor Lautner poster at the beginning of my senior year. Someone from the house had taken the poster from the campus center, where it was hanging to promote a screening of a Twilight movie at the campus coffeehouse. They took it home and put it up on a wall in our living room, a wall that used to be blank except for the thermostat. In my memory, all eight house residents gathered there in the living room the day we put up the poster, and then out came the markers and we set to work on defacing it. We added a curly mustache, a Harry Potter forehead scar, a bow in his hair, and even a TARDIS floating in the background. Over one eye I drew a monocle which, in hindsight, I realize looks way bigger than monocles really are.
This private vandalism session began with a flurry of ideas and calling dibs to be the next one with marker in hand, but as that energy slowed down we sat or stood around the poster, admiring our work, trying to work out what we could add to the already masterful piece. We silently stared at Taylor Lautner's defaced face for a while, too long really. Then someone would say, "It's weird how we're all just staring at it now, like we're appreciating it." We would laugh. And then we'd go right back to staring at the poster and not talking, like our weirdness hadn't just been pointed out to us. In a group as snarky as this flippant bunch of writerly youngsters (or in a group of anyone but teenage girls, frankly), one can't go on this long staring at the visage of Lautner without pointing out his resemblance to a llama. And so the joke became, imagine if we hung up an image of a llama, just as big as this poster, side by side with Taylor in order to invite the comparison for all who enter our living room. Wouldn't it be funny and ridiculous if we did such a thing, we mused. Later, we did exactly that. (I feel the need to interject with a meta moment addressing the way I'm insatiably using the word "we." There were eight of us in the house, and we didn't do everything together. I myself had no hand in the creation and hanging of the llama image, description forthcoming, so to say "we did it" isn't strictly true. And yet I can't stop saying we did this, we did that. I suppose I want to create a sense of community, and I suppose it's easier than remembering who exactly said or did every little thing.) The llama portrait was printed on sixteen eight-and-a-half by eleven inch pages, taped together to form a tight close-up of a llama's head. Its ears were perky, its face was furry, and its eyes were dead. We talked about how that face would haunt our dreams and made jokes to hide our genuine fear of the very real nightmares. We named him Patches Llama-Lautner, and its resemblance to Taylor was the eeriest thing of all.
After that, all bets were off, and all manner of things got hung up on that wall. We taped up drawings, poems, weird ads ripped from magazines where cats stand on their hinders and look like they're dancing because they have to pee, scraps of paper on which someone had written down funny things we said late at night. Our ever-growing collage became known as the "booze wall" after our beloved adjunct professor called it that while he was visiting for an Open Mic. We would host events like that sometimes, usually created by Literature Club (of which I'm now calling myself a life-long member), and pack as many people into the living room as we could. Besides the standard Open Mic readings (once or twice per semester, not always hosted at our house), house-matron Liz came up with the idea for the annual Pre-College Reading Night, where writing majors could gather to share funny, embarrassing, not-so-good writing that they did before college, some of it dating back to childhood. Those nights were some of the most fun, as long as readers were observing the time limits. One girl, no lie, read her dragon story for like half an hour or more, as if she was headlining and the rest of us were just opening for her. Everyone was too polite to tell her to wrap it up with any more than a dirty look or a yawn.
I realize now I forgot a few items when I was listing things found in our living room. Back in freshman year, before I lived in the house, my dad and my uncle Mark visited me on campus. We went to a local antique store, where my uncle Mark bought me a typewriter as a birthday present. The ribbon still worked, and I began writing letters to my friends under the nom de plume Maximilian Pfefferkorn. Then, for two years, I'm not sure what I did with it. Flash forward to senior year and, trusting my housemates and all who entered our home, I decided to keep the typewriter on a table in the corner of the living room. (Don't worry, this is not another theft story like the ones from the kitchen, I still have my typewriter.) You really have to punch the keys and sometimes wind the ribbon to a new spot, but generally the thing still worked, with varying degrees of success. I left it there so it might become a sort of communal typewriter and we might leave messages for each other. Turns out it stayed there mostly for decoration, rarely touched, although occasionally I would update it with a new cryptic phrase like "i am thinking ...".
Next on the list of living room objects is a pair of big animals, both provided by Ryan. One was a really big brown stuffed rabbit named Scape. When I say really big, I mean probably three feet tall or so, but I'm not good at measuring or estimating or numbers or memory. Ryan and his then-roommate bought the bunny for a buck at a thrift store back in freshman year, and he's been changing hands ever since. The name Scape comes from "scapegoat" because Ryan discovered right away how fun it was to pummel the poor fella, throw him off bleachers, etc. I myself have given Scape a few swift kicks to the whiskers when I had some stuff to vent. The Writers House became a home for Scape, especially the living room, where he sat in the corner, awaiting his next beating. Finally, we come to Bernard. Creepy, bizarre, unsettling Bernard, the monkey with a fishing pole. I am not speaking of another stuffed animal. What is Bernard made of then, you ask? Your guess is as good as mine, and mine is simian bones. Ryan brought Bernard into our lives (and the darkest recesses of our unconscious minds) I wanna say three years ago. To this day I don't have a clear story in my head of how Ryan acquired it, but I think maybe he stole it out of somebody's yard. I'll never forget in the beginning of junior year when the RA (Ryan, then) gathered his residents from all the nearby houses in our living room for a hall meeting. Bernard stood among the crowd, proudly brandishing his fishing rod high above his head. I overheard one frat bro, with a twinkle in his eye that blended jealousy and mischief, say to his friend, "I swear to God, man ... That monkey's gonna be in my room by the end of the year. I swear to God." In fact, Bernard was later kidnapped, though not by that determined young man, but by friends of ours in a different, more approachable frat, who hauled Bernard from our living room to their house on the hill, where they hid him behind a wall with some pipes back there or something (I wasn't there, gimme a break). Later, I'm told, a maintenance guy had to do some work in that part of the house, prompting him to ask our friends at Phi Mu Delta, "You know you got a monkey in there?"
All that was just preamble, and I've been burying the lead. The crowning achievement of the Writers House living room is Megabed. "Megabed" is one of those running inside jokes that I wish I could pinpoint the origin of in my memory, but since I can't it feels like "Megabed" has always been in our vocabulary. It's one of those groundbreaking ideas that already existed, floating aimlessly in the unseen ether, before any of us gave it voice. Megabed is timeless and transcends all of us. It's when you put some mattresses together to form one larger bed. Yet it's so much more than that. It's a testament to the strength and intimacy of our little community, for Megabed is not a posh luxury to be enjoyed by only one person. Instead it's the ultimate gathering spot, a representation of our unspoken desire to all of us hang out together in our own rooms and also everyone else's rooms at once. Megabed gives a big middle finger to walls and doors and locks and phony roommate agreements. We talked about Megabed for months, laughing at the word-pictures we painted of ourselves dressed in jammies and staying up late atop this spectacular Voltron of beds, until one magical night, just before Christmas break of senior year, we made it happen. One or two had already left for vacation, sadly, but for me and a few of my closest allies it was a dream realized, and it did not disappoint. We pushed the furniture to the fringes of the living room, and three of us, myself included, donated our mattresses, blankets, and pillows. Because my room was on the second floor, getting my mattress to the living room was a bit of a hassle, and for a little while it stayed lodged in the staircase, between the banister and wall, where people slid down it. But before long, we had two mattresses side by side on the living room floor, with mine joining them horizontally at the bottom. Now, is three the ideal number for a megabed? No, admittedly, three doesn't seem all that impressive, but we had limited space to work with, so cut us some slack. With yuletide on everyone's minds, we watched one of my favorite holiday films, Hogfather, until it became tiresome, and then we put on old episodes of Secret Life of the American Teenager and mocked them mercilessly. (I know I shouldn't insult other people's art, but that show is terrible.) We stayed up late. We turned off the lights. We said weird things and wrote them down. At the end of the night we disassembled Megabed and slept in our own rooms because we all need some privacy, I guess.
Don't get too romantic a notion of this living room. From year to year, we spent far more time hanging out in certain bedrooms than we did in the living room. So most of all I'll remember the living room for those special occasions when the Writers House had many visitors and it would have been inconvenient and inappropriate to invite them all into the popular bedroom. I'll remember the annual ice cream social for writing majors, and how it grew every year to include more people and new games. I'll remember the two Literature Club Halloween parties that we held in our living room, especially the year we used Whose Line-style improv to reenact the plot of all the Twilight books in about ten minutes. I'll remember the small concerts that house-matron Liz used to host in our living room or on our front porch, with local bands like Old Time Burials. I'll remember all the Open Mic readings where I got to hear the works of my peers and unforgettable stories by the aforementioned beloved adjuct professor. None of those important events could have been held in the bedrooms that hosted most of my precious day-to-day house memories. But most of all, I'll remember the day when we dared to blur the lines between the genres of living space, and we turned the living room into our Mega-bedroom.