Win at College

Every dorm room was different. Some had a window-seat, or a strange alcove, or a pipe across the ceiling that could be as loud as a passing freight train. Some had bad geometry, so nothing would ever line up perfectly, or the bed could never be flush with two walls at once. Some simply had an extra window panel or a misplaced electrical socket. But no too were exactly the same.

It took a while to appreciate the differences. You had to live in just such a room yourself, live there for months on end. To say nothing of spending all your time in other dorm rooms. You’d go there to socialize, to sit up straight and talk like Adults or lie on the floor and ramble like Children. You’d do your hanging there, your drinking, your partying, your movie-watching, do your random hookups and planned hookups and movies that turned into hookups and hookups that turned into movies.

And it would get to the point, after a while, that you would walk into a room, and if the ceiling was three inches higher than yours it felt like you’d walked into a vaulted cathedral and if the ceiling was three inches shorter you wanted to duck and cover.

Some rooms you could swear had a few extra square feet to them. Whoever was living in these, you just wanted to kill.

We’d have long debates about whether these rooms were actually larger. Maybe it was just a trick. Maybe it was the way they were decorated. Maybe it was the personality of the person who lived there. Maybe the stock college furniture could be rearranged according to some undergraduate feng shui that would maximize the feeling of space. Maybe it was just a figment of our imaginations.

I’m pretty sure no cause was left unexplored – and no cause was ever actually tested.

(Not like they sold tape measures in the school store.)

The rooms were all different, but deep down we knew that we were all the same. The way we decorated the rooms, the ways we lived in them, didn’t vary much from person to person or from hall to hall. A room might have one flavor or another of posters on the wall; the iPod dock or turntable would belt out Lead Belly or Led Zeppelin or Neutral Milk Hotel; there’d be little geometric hipster dresses or forestgreen renfair hooded cloaks in the closet; but no matter whose room you walked into, whatever its little difference, you’d know in a moment that it was a dorm room.

Then there was Win.

Winston was in my year. He was a little older – he’d taken a year off after high school to hang out at home and be a bum most wonderful – but four years later we’d be graduating together, God willing. We would have shared classes, no doubt, if he took classes. But that wasn’t Win’s style.

He said his major was in academic bureaucracy. He seemed to be doing pretty well. His first semester he started with four classes, managed to land two independent studies before the end of add/drop and then left all four of the classes. His parents got a letter from the Advising Office about how few classes he was taking. Put him on academic probation and everything.

Over winterterm Win did three other indies. Did four more the next semester. That put him one course-credit ahead of me. Without having set foot in a classroom.

So needless to say we weren’t lab buddies or anything. But out paths would cross now and again. Win went to the library twice a day: to drop off books in the morning, to get new books in the evening. In the mornings he’d usually be in a two-piece suit with a t-shirt beneath; in the evenings he’d usually cross campus in his bathrobe. Sometimes he’d drop into the chem lab and set up an experiment. Sometimes he’d end up in the shop and take over the plasma cutter for a few hours. Occasionally he’d sit in the high branches of a tree and read. Once I caught him filming a porn in the library stacks. I’ve never looked the same way at a work of fiction with author’s last name beginning with PA through PH.

At some point he’d managed to con the lab manager into giving him a key to the greenhouse. You could see him sometimes, especially in the winter, on the coldest day of the year, lying on a lounge chair in the orchids section, his feet keeping time to whatever the hell it was his laptop speakers supplied.

And the rock! That was practically Win’s rock. There was a big rock on the edge of campus, ten feet off the ground at least. Once a day Win would climb on top of it and give a speech to the trees. Sometimes you’d think he was trying to get them to abandon their roots and follow him into battle. Sometimes you were surprised when they didn’t.

He wasn’t very approachable, between the reading and the soldering and the porning and whatall. I saw him everywhere, but I doubt I ever would have met him in the natural course of things.

Fortunately we shared a bathroom. So we met.

It was awkward at first. That’s what happens when you do introductions outside a toilet stall. We shook hands. He smiled at me. He invited me into his room for a cup of tea.

It was four in the afternoon in the middle of January. I didn’t have class. There hadn’t been sunlight in weeks. I hardly knew this guy who was four doors down from me. He seemed interesting. Smart. Accomplished. Also, he was kind of cute.

All good reasons for curiosity. So I went to his room.

Some dorm rooms are a little different. They’re longer, or shorter; wider, or thinner; or different in any one of a hundred little ways. It gave them character. It made them our own.

Win’s room was something far beyond.

The floors were near obscured beneath overlapping swaths of carpets. They were discarded Muslim prayer rugs, so he told me, worn soft by hundreds of years of prostrate knees facing Mecca. His bed had fat pillows and a down comforter, all covered in china-pattern cobalt blue on white. He had two bookshelves in the room, each filled overbrimming with library books of all shapes and sizes, half of them in leather. He had quill-pens in a skull on his desk, India-ink in an Erlenmeyer flask, a desktop made out of blond wood, a laptop fitted in brass and glass like a traveling steampunk fantasy. A decanter of brandy sat on his night-table (“Hippocras of calvados,” he said, pouring me a generous amount into a small drinking-horn), and the music from his speakers was rich and classical (“Pao Casals,” he said. “I’m a sucker for the cello suites.”)

What caught my heart and squeezed it were the walls. Win had made himself a veritable art gallery, a museum in which to dwell. They were all of them printouts, 8.5×11, of the sort which any college student might print for fifty cents a copy at Kinkos. But what they were! One wall was entirely female portraiture, beautiful women, realistic, renouned, with examples coming from the early Renaissance to things which (he assured me) were still wet of paint, somewhere. The facing wall was the same, but portraits of men. “Simple dichotomy, I know,” he said, dropping down on the edge of his bed, “but without some sort of pattern, it’s just chaos.”

Surrounding the far wall, taken up mostly by window with its drab view, were landscapes of the most stunning and carrying-away character. The near wall, including the inside of the door, was all seascapes, and mountains, and cliffs, and other works of nature which work of man could barely hope to capture.

I sat on the bed and my eyes were caught by something above me. The ceilings too were decorated. Win had suffered no hint of whitewall to show itself. They were all color. “I went to that art-supply store,” he said, laying out on his bed and staring upwards and inviting me to do the same. “They a section for Book Arts in the rear. They had marbled end-papers, the sort that used to cradle books like a babe in swaddling-clothes. I bought a brace of them. How could I not? And fortunately this use presented itself,” and he pointed to the ceiling by

Perhaps it was subtly different from the other dorm rooms. Maybe the ceiling was too low or to high. I couldn’t tell. I couldn’t begin to guess. It was too different. It was of a different sort entirely. It was not a variation on a theme – it was a different beat, a different song, different instruments, a different media entirely.

Win didn’t have a dorm room. He had a place where he lived.

I barely noticed I was fooling around with him. Really, it was my pleasure. I was in awe. Of the room. Of being kissed and taken by he who’d made it. It felt like I was the one accomplishing something, by letting him accomplish me. It made me feel safe. It made me feel accomplished.

Here I was, plastic furniture from Target, and fucking Harrod’s was taking off his shirt for me. Here I was, just a kid, and this, this person, was on top of me!

We finished, then, and he slept a little, and I lay there with him. He woke and we talked tiredly and I left after a time. I felt proud of what had happened. Quite a thing I’d done. Quite an accomplishment.

I don’t feel bad about it. I never did. Why would I? But over the next few days I did think quite a bit about how I felt. Why I’d done it. Well, really, whether or not I wanted to do it again.

I didn’t think so. And I wasn’t sure why.

I didn’t run into Win for a few days. That helped. I mean, I saw him on campus. I caught snatches of Patrick Henry coming from the rock – his rock, we all called it that – and I saw him coming back from the library with a duffel over his shoulder, his scarlet bathrobe coming dangerously close to unveiling everything I’d already seen. He smiled when he saw me. I smiled back. He smiled more broadly. But he didn’t pursue and I didn’t go out of my way to be pursued. Not, at least, until I thought the matter out.

His room said it all. We’d been at school three months at that point, and already he’d made a dorm a house and a house a home! My mother hadn’t been able to do that to a twelve hundred square foot apartment in fifteen years. It was like going into a museum! I’d never been into a house like that. Sure they weren’t real paintings. But that only made it worse. They were cheap. They were easy. Anyone could have made their room like that. I could have made my room like that.

But did I want to?

That was the question, I realized. Did I want my room to be like that? To be so beautiful? So magnificent? So… complete?

No, in fact, I really didn’t think I did.

Sure I could have gone out and done as he’d done. Covered the walls in pretty pictures. Decorated the hell out of it. Made it a museum all my own.

And it would have been mine. But it wouldn’t have been me.

My room was exactly who I was. Poster of my favorite movie on the wall, because it was my favorite movie, because it really meant something to me. I didn’t listen to classical unless I was trying to get through a paper, and even then only before the need-heavy-metal-to-stay-awake phase of an all-nighter. I wouldn’t know a Saudi prayer rug from a spongy bathmat.

Maybe one day I’d live in a room exactly like his. Maybe one day I’d live in one that was just as complete, but entirely different. Either way, that day was still far off.

I thought about attaching myself to him. He was so finished, so comforting, so there! With him, I thought, I could work to make myself as whole as he was.

But I knew that I wouldn’t. I’d just end up becoming like him. Hiding in his shadow. Curled up in those big soft blankets, or down there on the prayer-rugs; not more me, just more him.

Or worse: just the hanger-on who was fucking him.

Some people, I think, go to College to start their adolescence. I’d seen enough of them, drunk on a Friday night or a Sunday morning and totally stoked to be away from home. Some came to kick their adolescence into high gear. The serial daters, the psychonaut stoners, the ones who took their fun so seriously they spent more time in the library studying it than doing their homework. Some came to start their lives, to really buckle down and get the skills they needed for life.

And then there was Win. Whose whole life at college seemed to say: this is my life.

But I came to college to get the kind of experiences that would let me say just that. I wanted to get drunk and dance to YouTube videos. I wanted to do drugs that I couldn’t pronounce and be exposed to new ideas and weird shit and crazy people and make the friends I’d have for the rest of my life. I wanted to go on 3AM road trips and watch movies that I hated and write papers and do projects and experiment and learn.

Maybe Win had done all that. Maybe he’d just missed out. Maybe he’d read so many books that he’d never had to live. The writers of the world had done it for him.

But whatever it was: it wasn’t me. I had four years of College ahead of me. I wasn’t going to waste it. I was going to make good on it. I was going to earn it.

And I felt that it was the right decision. Harder, more arduous, but when all was said and done it would be better for me. I could look back on my choice and be proud of it. Hopefully I’d be proud of what I’d done with it too.

We never went to bed again. He never tried. But we’d see each other, and smile, and say hello. And after a few semesters, when I’d done stupider and smarter things anon, Win and I, we actually became pretty good friends.


~ by davekov on 16 December 2009.

3 Responses to “Win at College”

  1. This drips with read-into-ability.

  2. I am nothing if not drippy.

  3. (and looking forward to when Hrothy and Fappy return to me)

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