[Preface: What you see below, in non-boldface type was written way back in early September 2012. I never posted it because it remained unfinished. I'm expanding on it and posting this now partially because summertime is most conducive to blogging. Also, I've become an avid reader of David Foster Wallace, which is to say I am now a man obsessed with footnotes and addenda. Please enjoy a continuation of my nostalgia-driven Writers-House-examining memoir project, wherein I will insert disclaimers and additional information when necessary.]
I was never supposed to live in the Writers House. In freshman year I lived in a regular dorm like everyone else. My roommate dropped out after the fall semester, so I had the tiny room with its bunk beds all to myself in the spring. As that year neared its end and everyone was discussing housing, I knew only one man whom I really wanted to live with: my friend Mike. Although we hadn't discussed the details, we had an understanding that we'd probably become roommates in sophomore year. Until Mike joined a frat. To be fair, if I was ever going to join a fraternity [I didn't. I won't.], it would be the one he picked (and became president of so quickly it was weird). This was the relatively harmless frat, it seemed, the one that did not entirely consist of horrible, big, loud jock-types. The frat has its own house, of course, which they must fill with members every year, and so Mike got roped into living there. And I wasn't going to join the frat and move in with him, because I just don't get it. I'm not the type of guy who enjoys long outdoor retreats, and I didn't see the need to pay money to hang out with a bunch of dudes with whom I could spend time anyway. Mike apologized because he knew he left me with very few options. All my other friends (read: a small number of people) had already paired up and made plans for living together. I had to rely on the housing lottery: maybe if my number was good enough I could get a single room somewhere. Turns out my number was really, really bad. [As in, I-didn't-even-know-there-were-that-many-people-at-this-school high.] I was left in the awkward, lonely, sad position of trying to find a roommate from the enormous pool of "people I don't know." Where do I even begin?
I learned that Residence Life has surveys for people looking for roommates. When I looked through them, there were maybe seven forms at most. I was part of a small club, and not the cool exclusive kind. Among that short pile, I found just one person who fit the criteria of "male" and "someone I don't already know and actively dislike." So I contacted him, and we agreed to meet at the dining hall. This was, let's face it, essentially a blind date. I brought my girlfriend as a sort of buffer for the through-the-roof awkwardness. We talked over cafeteria food. He was studying computer science and seemed very quiet and plain. I figured, we may not become the best of friends, but I bet he's a tolerable roommate. A week later we went to the housing lottery night together and waited for one of our numbers to come up. Turns out, literally, no joke, this guy was the only person in the entire school with a number worse than mine. After hours of sitting and watching luckier people achieve their dreams, we stood at the end of the diminishing line, walked to the last open table, and finally signed up for a double room in North Hall, which is pretty much the worst one, I think everyone agrees. But at least I could say that I'd live right across the street from Seibert where my girlfriend would have a much nicer room in a much prettier building. Meanwhile, my friend Ryan [a novelist/screenwriter/pharmacist/balloon animal artist] was arranging his own awkward living situation. Ryan knew, probably since week one of school, that he wanted to live in the Writers House, having visited its residents a lot, and so he signed up to live in the upstairs double, not knowing whom he might be paired with. Soon he learned his roommate would be a writer in our class whose legacy in my memory is his shoulder-length hair that he'd all too often pull into the corners of his mouth during class, which was gross.
Earlier that semester, I had the chance to request to live in the Writers House, same as all other creative writing majors. But I didn't want to. I had visited it for a few events in the past, which were fun, but I only knew one person living there, and it seemed like a place for the older kids. Plus, here's most of what I knew about it: it's near but off campus, which means a longer walk to classes and dinner and everything. It had no air conditioning. And the men's bathroom was a weird little space where I couldn't find the light switch and the tiny toilet stalls had curtains instead of doors. [I recall feeling gas-station-restroom levels of discomfort. Ick.] So here's the turning point in this sad tale: that summer, the kid with the hair dropped out of school. When he heard the good news, Ryan asked if I wanted to be his roommate. Still, the House seemed like an inconvenience, and I didn't know what good would come from living there. Along with feeling wishy-washy about the location, I wasn't sure I wanted to live with Ryan. From my current time-and-place vantage point [remember: September 2012], I can't believe I ever hesitated about any of this. For all his buffoonery (and balloonery), I would love to be living with Ryan right now. Without straying too far from the topic, I'm at a new school where I'm still getting to know people, I don't socialize much, and I live in an apartment with roommates I hardly talk to, so I spend a lot of time being and/or feeling alone. [Boo-hoo, woe was me! Now this old Will's future is my present, and I can report that graduate school has brought me many treasured friendships. I never did get along with the aforementioned roommates, but just like the one from freshman year, they all left after the fall. I had a big place to myself for a few great months, and now my apartment is also occupied by three male nurses from Saudi Arabia. Wherever I move, my places of residence love to throw me a lot of curve balls.] But a little over three years ago [now four], the Writers House carrot was dangled under my nose, and I wouldn't bite until I wrote to my friend Liz, who lived there, and she convinced me to make the switch with pleas and praise and promises of shared good times. I wrote to my almost-roommate, told him to expect a double in North all to himself, and we never spoke again.
And that's how I came to live in the upstairs double with Ryan for our sophomore year.
Enter the upstairs double and the first thing you're greeted with is a closet that is abruptly close to the door. On your right is the rest of the room, with all the usual things: two beds, two desks, two chairs, two dressers. Actually, come to think of it, we had an extra desk chair, which we put inside the aforementioned closet. We called it the "stupid chair" and threatened to make people sit there whenever they said something too dumb to go unpunished, but we never made good on that rule. There's another closet all the way on the right in the opposite corner of the room. My closet was the first one near the door, in spite of the fact that Ryan's bed was the one nearer to this closet, and vice versa. In retrospect, I have no good reason why we didn't just trade closets. There are a lot of things we probably could have done better about arranging that room, and our interior design would later be vastly improved upon by future residents, Kim and Alison. But I'm getting ahead of myself. What was sophomore year in the House like? What was it like to live with Ryan? I remember that year as the time when Ryan thought that he could improve the quality of really cheap vodka by running it through a Brita filter five times. [This process "elevated" the liquor from bottom-shelf Vladimir brand to Ryan's own "V's Vodka," with a label he designed and printed himself, the name stemming from a basic knowledge of Roman numerals and Ryan's love of the film V for Vendetta.] Once he bought an ice cube tray designed to make frozen shot glasses, and I stubbornly could not wrap my head around why this would possibly be a good idea. (It's not like you need to keep a shot cold over time. A shot is gone in a second. The only thing a frozen shot glass gets you is cold fingertips, right?) The RA told him that he couldn't keep it in the house's freezer, because it's alcohol-related paraphernalia. At the time I wouldn't have guessed that Ryan would be our RA the following year, but he made it happen, presumably through a combination of balloon-animal trickery and bribery. Oh yeah, I guess it was sophomore year when Ryan started his balloon animal hobby, hence the day I came back to our room and found my bed covered in the colorful critters. Now he gets paid to do it at kids' parties; go figure.
[That's all she wrote, where "she" is me eleven months ago. Maybe now you can see why this entry went unfinished. I wrote myself into a corner with "go figure," the two most anti-climactic words I can think of. The fact is that living with Ryan was never boring, but sophomore year wasn't the most social, fun-filled era in my Writers House life. In fact, I felt like a hanger-on to the real owners of the house: Dan and Drew, who invited friends over every weekend to drink and watch shows on Dan's gigantic TV. Too many times I saw that bunch with their shirts (or more) inexplicably off. They made the noise and the memories that year. Ryan could hang with them sometimes and in other circles that still remain mysterious to me. So in a way, the upstairs double was a sanctuary primarily for me and my girlfriend, Dana. I'll remember that year and that room as the time and place when/where we watched some of my favorite shows on Dana's portable DVD player. I'll remember one of the rare times I invited many friends to our room to celebrate my birthday with a Snuggie-themed party where we watched the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers movie. And I don't know why this sticks with me, but I'll remember the late night Ryan and I spent sitting up on our beds doing last-minute homework--me with an unstarted psychology paper due the next day, him with all manner of God-knows-what piling up--and Ryan (always generous, especially when it came to his stockpile of Scooby-Doo fruit snacks) let me slip a swig of his rum into my can of Dr. Pepper, and we joked around as we stared at our laptop screens, locked in our room where we could ignore the clamor of certain housemates. It wasn't until later that my friends and I really made the house ours, and by then the upstairs double belonged to Kim, which means a whole different batch of memories tied to this same room. Ergo: to be continued.]