Tag: Resident Assistant

Friends in Average Places

shady

(Note: No, I didn’t turn to drugs due to how sad the last part of the story was. But…well, you’ll see how it all fits in.)

Luckily, things almost immediately got better for me friend-wise, though it had very little to do with me.

I’ve never been all that good at making friends. Which is to say, I’ve never understood the process. I couldn’t tell you good places to meet people or effective techniques for finding shared interests or anything like that. I am, however, surprisingly good at going about my life randomly and then having friends when I go home.

Which would be great, if I weren’t also surprisingly bad at overthinking things.

I spent a lot of my first two or three weeks of college “trying” to make friends. I approached random people before class to have awkward conversations. I spent time in places that reflected my hobbies and waited for friends to arrive, like some sort of horrible friendship trapdoor spider. And as you might guess from the words “horrible friendship trapdoor spider,” it didn’t go all that well.

When nothing came of it, I sort of gave up. This wasn’t because I’d suddenly become aware that you can’t force friendship. The truth was, I had more than enough to keep me busy attending classes and trying to kick start a fledgling writing career.

(It’d be hard to argue, in fact, that a key reason I was able to succeed in either school or writing was because I had plenty of free time.)

And that was about the time my RA stopped me in front of my building, reached into his pants and showed me something that would change my life.

“Um, good for you,” I said, looking down at the six cans of beer he’d expertly crammed into the elastic lining of his pants. It didn’t look like the first time he’d done it, and that made it all the sadder somehow.

“You want one?” he asked, glancing about conspiratorially. “Don’t worry. I won’t rat you out to anybody.”

I briefly reviewed my policy on drinking any liquids that had been warming in another man’s pants to make sure and then offered an excuse at random. “I have a policy against drinking liquids that have been warming in another man’s pants.” Okay. In hindsight, it wasn’t that random.

He gave a chuckle and nodded. “That’s cool. That’s cool. You probably shouldn’t be drinking anyway. It’s not good for kids to get into stuff like this too young.”

I thought about defending myself and then remembered I was only seventeen. He wasn’t technically wrong. “Is there a reason those are in your pants?” I hesitantly asked, seeing that information wasn’t going to come about on its own.

“It’s against the rules, man,” he said, explaining that alcohol was strictly prohibited in dorms – even if the student was of drinking age. “But every now and then I do the guys on my floor a solid and smuggle some in.”

Considering I despised my RA with the white-hot heat of a thousand dying suns, I briefly thought of turning him in. Unfortunately, he was my only point of contact. And something told me he wasn’t likely to escalate the matter. Still, identifying the situation as one I wanted to be nowhere near when it blew up in someone’s face (or in their pants), I promptly returned to my room and locked my door to the maximum extent it could be locked.

Then, I waited.

(I vaguely recall also playing “Metal Gear Solid 2.” I can do two things at once.)

It didn’t take long for the police to arrive. By which I mean, they took an almost suspiciously short amount of time to arrive after the RA had returned with his spoils and shared them. (All told, it was about seven minutes.) And that’s when it hit me. My RA hadn’t just smuggled beer into the dorms in the lamest way humanly possible. Instead, he’d just pulled off the lamest sting operation of all time.

I breathed a sigh of relief at having not chosen that particular moment to violate my own policies regarding reaching into another man’s pants and pulling something out for any reason.

The rest, as they say, is history. I stood in the hallway with the rest of my floormates as we watched the police escort Hitler’s Youths – the only two people stupid enough to fall for (or be enticed by) that sort of slapdash operation – out of the building. Both were weeping openly, though I choose to remember them as they once were. I like to imagine them walking away proudly, arrogantly and shirtless, each dribbling a basketball as the elevator doors closed and they vanished into legend.

“Wow,” a voice said to one side as the onlookers began to disperse. “I can’t think of a more deserving pair of assholes.”

The voice, as voices often do, belonged to a person. I turned to see one of the floormates I’d very briefly interacted with on my initial tour of my surroundings. He extended his hand to me to shake. “Sorry. We didn’t actually get to talk when you stopped by. My name is Matt.”

“Huh,” I said, biting my lip pensively. “If I ever write about this experience later, all these people with the same name are going to start to get confusing.”

“Wouldn’t you just refer to yourself in the first person?”

He actually had a point there.

I won’t oversell Matt as being some friend that changed my life forever. In fact, I wouldn’t even try to claim we were incredibly close friends. But he was the first friend I made in college, and as it turned out, the single decent human being on my floor.

Just because the others hadn’t been arrested didn’t mean they weren’t terrible people for a variety of other misogynistic and/or racist reasons.

Probably the only thing I remember about him with any real clarity was that Matt was absurdly, astoundingly and relentlessly lazy. I won’t pretend to be any sort of paragon of hard work myself, but Matt had attained what I can only assume was a Buddha-like level of enlightenment in a religion of pure inactivity. Without spoiling future events too much, he once commented – perhaps prophetically – that he was glad we were only three doors from one another because he didn’t think our friendship would survive a flight of stairs between us.

From there, I went about my life and went about making friends in very average ways. It wasn’t a rite of passage or a step on my way toward adulthood. In fact, if not for the beer story it wasn’t even all that interesting. (Though that portion alone is largely worth the price of admission.) But it was an event and it happened.

When you see all the stuff I eventually don’t leave out, you’ll probably see that it happening was almost all it needed to be included.

“A Sense of Belonging (Elsewhere)”

basketball
Note: I promise there’s eventually context for this picture.

The years have dulled many memories of college, but I still feel the sting of rejection as though it happened only yesterday.

That’s not a joke. I realize there’s supposed to be some sort of joke there. And yet, even seeing that I’ve moved on to bigger and better things all this time later, I still struggle to put any sort of positive spin on that first weekend in college. So, if it helps, imagine me wearing a funny t-shirt or something.

It’s hard to say exactly where things started to go wrong. If I had to guess, though, I’d say that it was a very fundamental misunderstanding of what college was. I mean, sure, I knew that it was a bunch of buildings with teachers and classes and what-have-you. But I’d made rather lofty assumptions about fresh starts after high school. What I didn’t realize nearly soon enough was that, for almost everyone I met that first semester, high school had never really ended.

Sigh. I hope you’re imagining a really funny t-shirt, is what I’m trying to say.

In what was probably meant to help people get to know one another, our RA had instituted a few rules for welcome weekend. First off, we were to have our doors open at all times in case someone wandered by. Talking would ensue. Friendships would be forged. No doubt, BFF bracelets would follow and we’d braid each other’s hair.

A second – more puzzling – rule was that we were forbidden from leaving our floor without someone else from the floor or special permission from the RA. I’m not sure exactly what he’d hoped to accomplish there. My only guess was that it had something to do with being in co-ed dorms – boys and girls being split into dorms every other floor. Most likely, it had been meant to keep us out of trouble in the form of ending up in an entirely different form of alternating boy-girl stack. (Hi-yo!)

And third, we had to eat all our meals at the same time and at the same table as the rest of our floor mates. This rule seemed to make the least sense to me, since friends would already be eating meals together anyway.

Luckily, I didn’t have to worry about eating with friends, mostly because it only took me about four hours to hate every last one of my floor mates with every fiber of my being.

It began, as most stories do, with two shirtless teenagers dribbling balls loudly in front of my open door. The two had actually been doing laps of the floor when I mistakenly waved to them as they passed. Without saying a word to me, they exchanged an irritated look and proceeded to stand there dribbling louder and louder over the next five minutes. “Can I help you two with something?” I eventually asked, a bit exasperated.

“What’s wrong, frosh?” one of the interchangeable Aryans with a crew cut asked. “Is this annoying you?”

“A little, actually,” I admitted.

“Well, that’s too bad, frosh,” one said with a sneer. “There’s no rule says we can’t dribble out here.”

I was actually pretty sure there was a rule that said exactly that, but I hadn’t read up on the literature yet. So I changed tack. “Okay. And…what’s a ‘frosh’ now, exactly?”

The two exchanged another look, clearly delighted by the simple pleasure of being assholes. “It means ‘freshman,’ frosh.” I’d honestly lost track of who was talking at this point. But whichever of them it was, they delivered it with an emphasis that suggested they thought it was an insult rather than a completely accurate description of a first-year student. And one, I considered noting, that applied to all of us equally.

I blinked back. “Oh.” Their sneers faltered a bit when I failed to burst into flame from the white-hottest of all the sick burns. “Anyway, why are dribbling there, exactly?”

Delight returned to their faces. “Oh, look how pissed he’s getting.” The two kept from high-fiving, but only just. “Poor frosh. It’s annoying him.” He mimed crying. I started looking for hidden cameras, because I honestly had no idea what was going on.

“Yes. I think we covered that earlier.” The conversation went on a little longer, with the pair sharing looks and laughing at insults that were neither funny nor particularly insulting. At no point in the conversation did they come close to hurting my feelings, though on two occasions they actually insulted their own mothers. In the end, I closed the door and went back to watching television.

The dribbling outside intensified over the course of the next two minutes. Then it became the telltale rattling of balls being thrown at my door over and over. I spent most of the time trying to figure out what I’d done that had made the two so upset, aside from my deeply insulting wave hello. I didn’t have long to think, however, since the RA arrived soon after. Much to my surprise, he chided me for having my door closed while the two shirtless boys openly laughed and repeated “busted!” behind him.

Realizing whatever I watched on television was going to sound a lot like loud dribbling, I went about and tried to meet new people. And that’s when I made an even more unpleasant discovery. In addition to being the only one without a roommate, I was also the only one not in a room with a friend from high school.

Not surprisingly, no one was all that interested in making new friends when they came to college with someone they’d known for the past decade or so. And in the few moments I came close to starting a decent conversation, Hitler’s youths would arrive to lob ever-weaker insults or otherwise make the situation too awkward for pleasant company. After doing my rounds of the floor and enduring an awkward meal consisting of nothing but in-jokes and high school anecdotes, I’d pretty much realized it was a lost cause.

It didn’t take long. I am, after all, a quick learner. Sigh.

The final nail in the coffin came late in the evening when, as I did some writing, a group of girls called up to my window. We talked back and forth until they finally asked me to come down. Exhilarated, I threw on my second-least-embarrassing shirt and rushed for the elevator. Where I was promptly stopped by the RA.

“I was talking with some people down on the quad. They seem cool. I’m going to go hang out with them for a bit,” I explained to his increasingly displeased face.

“Honestly, I think you need to focus less on them until you make more of an effort with your floor mates. You don’t seem to be hitting it off with them,” he explained. “Since you don’t have a roommate, I worry you’re not going to have any friends.”

“Yes…but that’s why I’m going to go try and make some now,” I reasoned. I went over my gut feelings about the people on the floor already having existing friendships and that I’d be better off trying elsewhere. “Besides,” I pointed out, “everyone else left to go have fun already. Even if I stayed up here, there’s no one to make friends with.”

The conversation went on for the next ten minutes, with the RA becoming increasingly agitated, as though my decision to find my own friends was an affront to him somehow. In the end, though, he stepped aside. “Fine. Whatever. I’m just an RA. I can’t force you to do anything anyway.”

That is tremendously good information to have,” I said, and brushed past him.

Of course, cliches were all the rage back then. So I doubt I have to tell you that the RA’s long talk had lasted just long enough that the group of girls were long gone by the time I walked out the side door. I could have approached one of the random groups laughing and talking, but I didn’t feel all that lucky at that point. Honestly, I didn’t even feel all that sociable anymore.

I walked back to my room and, in my single victory of the night, closed and locked my door since, as my RA said, he couldn’t force me not to.

I want to say that the story has a happy ending or silver lining. At the very least, I’d like to say that it ended there without getting worse. But that’s not what happened.

I remember being jarred awake at 3am by the sound of loud dribbling directly outside my door. The Aryans had returned and, apparently fueled by whatever motivated idiots, decided to cap their night by dribbling in place for the next half hour. They talked about girls and parties and what fraternities they planned to rush in the fall. And, much to my irritation, they were joined by the RA, who seemed to have much laxer rules regarding noise violations than whether or not doors were arbitrarily left open.

“So…you guys like basketball, huh?” the RA asked. I put in my headphones.

Listening to music on full blast, I returned to my writing. I poured all my loneliness and angst and disdain by bouncing balls into it. And I haven’t stopped since.

Both the late-night dribblers, on the other hand, did eventually stop dribbling. At least long enough to be sent packing two weeks later when the RA carried out a one-man sting operation that resulted in an underage drinking charge for both. It was a dirty trick, but suffice to say, I didn’t lose any sleep over it.

Well, look at that. I guess there was a happy ending to the story, after all.

“A Matt Made in Heaven”

clone

After being accepted to college I was surprised to find myself in a weird sort of limbo between two very different worlds. Like, you know in “Stargate,” when they step into the portal and they’re half on Earth and halfway across the galaxy? Yeah, I saw that scene a ton of times, because I had a lot of free time to watch “Stargate.”

I was repeatedly told (very halfheartedly) that the last half of my senior year mattered. But it seemed more like a way to keep students in line rather than a genuine threat. In reality (and this is exactly the sort of bragging I wanted to spare you by keeping details vague), my SAT score and GPA thus far were so high that I could have slept through half the school year without endangering my acceptance to college.

The hardest part of my senior year, I quickly discovered, was finding places to sleep where people wouldn’t bother me.

As far as preparing for college, there was surprisingly little to do. I had to visit the campus on all of two occasions. The first was for an orientation that was useful for the moment they handed me a campus map and then never again in the next six hours.

The second was for course selection. Though, since the order students chose courses was based on the number of credits they had already, it had more of an air of desperation than I expected. Aides went from terrified student to terrified student asking if you’d like to take classes less and less related to their intended major and find that those, too, were already full. It was like being on a nature documentary of the African food chain and arriving after the lions, hyenas, birds, confused zebras and cameramen had already lost interest in the carcass.

In the end, I chose introductory archaeology, philosophy and astronomy. Philosophy, I and the aide agreed, was at least related to an archaeology major. Astronomy, on the other hand, was the only subject left with class space that I found even remotely interesting. I can’t pretend it was related to my intended major (though the aide tried) since, as a rule, there are very few excavations of the night sky.

As irritating as the long drives and visits were, though, the three months without hearing a word from Penn State were far more unnerving.

It wasn’t until the March prior to leaving for college that I received word again in the form of my roommate assignment. Despite all the horror stories I’d heard, I was eager to find out who I’d be spending the semester with. Any number of sitcoms had filled me with equal parts excitement and dread as I tore open the envelope and discovered…my own contact information.

At the bottom of several paragraphs and bullet points on how to cultivate a relationship with my future roommate was my own address, phone number and e-mail. I turned it over to find the back was blank. I shook the empty envelope. But several cliches later, I was out of ideas.

The rest of the letter outlined common roommate issues. It gave a list of necessary room items and suggested coordinating to avoid doubling up on televisions and window fans. It offered ideas for how to find common interests and mediate disagreements. “Wow,” I thought, admiring its thoroughness. “If they’d actually told me who my roommate was, this would have been really helpful.”

It even included a list of good topics to discuss to build friendships. These included hobbies, favorite shows and the sort. Then again, I found the list of things to not discuss much more amusing. It included politics, controversial topics and, wisely, “talking too much about high school memories.”

I remember being very anxious about not knowing anything about the person I’d be sleeping next to all semester. It could be someone I had nothing in common with. It could be a crazy person. Or, worst of all, it might even be someone so incredibly normal that I seemed like the crazy one in comparison.

I called. I wrote. I e-mailed.

Try as I might, though, I never got to the bottom of it. And before I knew it, it was move-in day with onlookers staring at the kid bringing every single thing from the list of necessary large appliances up the stairs.

I walked past doors with name tags. “Dave” and “Tory.” “Raleigh” and “Slocum.” (What?) “Ernst” and “Keith.” And finally, on my room, 106, “Matt” and…”Matt”?

Suddenly, it all made sense. Since I’d been paired with a roommate with my first name, someone had mixed up our roommate assignment letters. It was, I supposed, an honest mistake. I opened the door, ready to chuckle about it with a new friend. Instead, I found two empty beds, each with a welcome letter and free college swag. Both letters, as it turned out, were addressed to identical Matts who had the same major, went to the same high school and even grew up in the same house.

“Same house? How in the world have I not met this guy before?” I wondered.

It was then that the Resident Assistant arrived and, as would quickly discover was the norm, provide no help whatsoever. “You’re…Matt?” he asked, looking down at a small clipboard. I told him I was. His look became puzzled. “Oh. Which one?”

“Boor,” I clarified. Already being a bit ahead of the mystery at this point, I added, “I’m actually both the people in this room.”

“Right…but…hm.” He clearly hadn’t been trained for this over the lunchtime seminar he later revealed was his entire training to be an RA. “It’s going to be hard to tell the two of you apart. Same name. Same last name…wow. Same address?”

I looked at my parents and rubbed my arm nervously. “If you were joking, that would actually be funny.” I suspected he wasn’t, though.

He shook his head. “I mean…wow. Do you two know each other?”

I considered touching on the philosophical debates over whether one can ever truly know oneself. Instead, I explained the situation as best I could. “I think it was all a mistake somewhere in the process. It made me my own roommate,” I concluded.

“I’ll have to let Housing know,” he said, marking something on his clipboard. Then, in the moment before a small amount of respect could trickle into the opening, he continued. “If you’re going to live here alone, it’s going to cost more.” His tone suggested I’d somehow tried to game the system by having a name that could be written twice.

“But…it was Penn State’s mistake. Why should I pay more?” I asked, prior to spending five years doing exactly that. “Couldn’t you just assign me a new roommate?”

This, too, apparently hadn’t been covered in his lunchtime seminar. “I’m not sure. They spend a lot of time putting compatible people together.” It was news to me. From my end, “a lot” seemed like an exaggeration. As did having spent “time” in general.

And if I’m being entirely honest, my roommate seemed like a bit of a dick anyway.

After a little more discussion – eventually bringing someone who actually had the authority to make decisions into the mix – we decided that I’d live alone until they found me a new roommate. “Given the popularity of the school and long waiting list, you’ll probably be hearing from us within the day. And I apologize, but since classes start in two days, they could show up at any time of day or night, without notice.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Since I’m already terrified of starting a new chapter of my life that will decide my entire future and I have trouble sleeping in new places, not knowing when a complete stranger will barge in would be a dream for me.”

With that out of the way, though, everyone slowly dispersed. I hugged my parents and watched as other students tried to hug theirs in private to not seem “uncool.” This, at least, made me feel better. I realized, all at once, that I was surrounded by people who were just as worried and human as I was. Though, I’m only assuming that last part. Seriously. I saw the name “Run” on one of the doors on the way back up. Are humans giving their children these names?

I closed my door and sighed, confronting my newfound isolation and freedom. And sitting on my bed, I turned to the empty space and asked, “So…want to watch Stargate?”

He didn’t object.

“In that case, I’m also taking your swag bag.”