Way back in college, I stayed in the relatively quiet dorm. No particular reason; it’s just the one I ended up in. I did not get to live in the party dorm.
The party dorm wasn’t officially the “party dorm” like some colleges might have; it just happened to be built in a way that encouraged craziness. It was a converted hotel, or more likely a hotel and multiple buildings, and so all the hallways were wide and crooked and extraordinarily weird. I visited people in this dorm and these rooms, and I have strong memories of the crazed dissimilarity between various places in it. One pair’s room might look like it should have hospital beds (white, non-squarish, tons of windows), while another might look like the college didn’t like your kind (smallish, low ceilings, dark, facing an alley). Some rooms had two people, some had three, a couple nightmarish scenarios had four or five and one had, as I recall, six.
As an extra bonus, there were people living in this dorm. What I mean is that these were people who had 99 year leases on their apartments, and the building had converted to a dorm around them but they were still living there.
I made a bunch of buddies in the weeks before school started, and one set of friends had a room together in this dorm. There was the big guy, the rakish Mark Hamill-looking music whiz, and the suave curly-haired fellow with the silent but friendly air. They got a relatively large room, which also had a weird-ass little alcove in one corner, which was probably a closet four thousand years ago but which now one of the beds got shoved in.
One of them had worked in a record store, and so he brought 2,000 CDs. I am being very specific here, he brought two thousand CDs in cases and filled one of the bureaus with them. Also, before classes started, he hooked up with a girl going to a nearby college and moved into her apartment, leaving his stuff behind. So now they had thousands of CDs and music. And beer. I remember all sorts of beer.
Parties happened in that room, including one at the beginning of the year, co-hosted by one of the room resident’s father, which grew so loud and out of control that it took five RAs (resident advisors, little quasi-employees of the schools recruited from the student body) to knock on the door. The parent came out and explained in no uncertain terms that if he was spending thousands of dollars to house his kid in this dump that the party would go on. The party went on.
One of the parties I was at had a rule of checking ID. Big ol’ sign on a sheet explained this, behind a prodigious amount of liquor. Two young ladies came in, and whoever was behind the bar asked how old they were. They said they were 15. “Got any ID?” he asked, and they did. So they got a drink.
Within months, this room was a war zone, a collage of ripped paper, lost socks, broken plastic and all sorts of forgotten dreams. I remember being over on a Saturday morning chatting with one resident when the other came in and drank from a random assortment of bottles, looking for a buzz. What I remember most specifically about this period was that the beds, which could be converted to bunk beds as needed, had been converted to a triple bunk bed, with the middle bed being used as a shelf for books and garbage and the top bunk had someone sleeping in it, in a manner that would guarantee memorable injury were he to fall out of it. This freed up space in the room, for sure; even with the really high ceiling, this bunk was coming close to scraping against it.
Ultimately, the freshman year drew to a close, the residents of the dorm filtered out, and I ended up having one of the three residents of this room invite me down to his parent’s place in New Jersey for a party. At this point, we hatched a plan to get an apartment together instead of paying the ruinous fees for a dorm, and our next set of adventures began.
Now, why mention all this?
I mention this on two fronts.
First of all, it all really happened; I am not making anything up here, throwing things up a ratchet for the sake of entertainment or devising statistics that are intended to impress or dismay when in reality they were not this way. This is how it happened and it’s real. This sort of stuff happened all the time and I observed it, and 20 years later I can remember it, primarily because I was stone cold sober the whole time.
Second of all, these are stories. They’re all just tons of stories, stories that I remember, that I gathered, that I sat around in when they happened and thought to myself “Well, look at this.” In our lives, these things happen by the truckload. I recall from one of my interviews I conducted with Eric Greene, who turned out to be one of the top ten interviews I did, and he said, basically, that we all convince ourselves that we have normal boring lives and need to spice them up, but we in fact all lead interesting lives. I agree with that. It’s all in the telling.
Stories, these building blocks of recounted happenings, are created by the truckload, every day, and as we all become more and more connected, these stories are being told with greater and greater frequency. I am trying to visualize how it must be for the group fo kids who occasionally mail me, who are now in their young teens and have always known a world with a world wide web, always known that everything out there is just one “http://” magic spell away, could find anything they wanted in moments and the way they’ve always known this. I wonder if they think that these stories are all false, or if they must be true, or what all this storytelling must mean. What meaning does this din of smirking recitations have for them?
I know that for many of them, the textfiles on my sites reflect a simplicity, a sort of ease with the world that they cannot have; if someone takes your picture with a cell phone, it ends up in the world’s hands within moments. If you say something hurtful about someone in a fit of adolescent anger, your words are trapped forever, and nothing you say will change where they’ve gone. To these kids, they often speak how wide open the world was back then, that you walked away from phones, not with them. You waited in line to be on-line. Your computer did a thing and that’s all it did. These are rapidly becoming a romantic memory of this lost time, with the downsides sort of smoothing out into quaint irregularity. Like living in a castle, sans a window. Nice in a photo, not so nice overnight.
I wonder, sometimes, what our new world of storytellers with voices so loud they circle the world and last for years will yield.
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You’re right: most people quietly live very interesting lives, or at least have some damn good stories to tell. I do, and will continue to until I call it a day and shuffle off this mortal coil.
Each good story profits from having a good listener to appreciate it. And that, I think, is both an art and an acquired skill. I am thinking of one friend in particular who is able to connect with virtually everyone in an understated, friendly way, and draw their fascinating stories out of them. He is also an excellent raconteur himself: the two skills seem to go hand in hand.
But it can also be learned, I think, by sheer dint of being actively interested in other people and in the world.