Thursday, February 16, 2012

How Will I Know?

The carpet in the hallway was a blue and green geometric pattern, a truly bad choice to welcome home college students who had been out far past bedtime. The walls were a blue green color, a textured paper that was beginning to peel away at spots near the floor. Our door was near the middle of the long hallway, to the left when you came out of the elevator. On one side lived the cowgirls, with whom we shared a bathroom. They were from a small town in Kansas, spoke with deep country accents, and rarely spent any time anywhere near us, or school at all. On the other side lived two boys from St. Louis, wonderfully nice and quiet boys who I now assume are living a fulfilling life as gay men somewhere in Missouri. They were the next door neighbors, the NDNs which, left us, Egg and I, in between the cowgirls and the NDNs.

Egg and I shared room 222, my bed on the side of the hallway, the door always open. Every day the guy down the hall would stick his head in and yell "Hey!". He soon became Mr. Friendly, and then Kenny, and now, over 20 years later, Uncle Kenny. He still greats me, and my children, with "Hey!" each and every time we see him.

It was sophomore year and I had landed in this dorm because all my friends went through sorority rush; I did not, and I had nowhere else to go. My parents made this choice for me and I was furious, convinced that a much better option would have been an off campus apartment. My parents were right and I was wrong. It was a private dorm, which meant that they sold themselves as having better food and maid service. Maid service consisted of a once per week trash dumping, a quick once over of the shared bath, and a vacuum of the roughly two feet of unoccupied floor space in our tiny room. To the delight of Kenny, I would scream, obnoxiously, from my open door, "DUST" whenever I heard her make her way down the hall. Better food was debatable; I once took a box of Rice Krispies, dumped them over a bowl of marshmallows from the hot chocolate area, and stuck the entire thing in the microwave. Marshmallows blow with great force when microwaved.

Disgusted with these horrid living conditions, I protested by rarely leaving the building. We spent hours in the study room, doing everything but studying, or lounging in the poorly adorned hallway, disturbing anyone who had come to college to actually learn something. Across the hall was the really tall guy and his roommate Booger (so named for the large booger we once saw hanging from his nose while running). Next to them were Jason and Tom who decorated their walls with the packaging from the 24 can pack of Bud Light. Beyond that, Kenny and Steve, Lex, Juli, Maria, Pam (the art student who got a good dose of whipped cream blown under her door), Books, Brady (who allowed himself to be tied to a chair and sent on the elevator), Danny, Andy (and his smelly feet) and Margo who technically lived across the street but became an honorary hallway dweller by spending every free minute of her time on the second floor.

We spent an enormous amount of time in that blue and green themed social artery, sprawled out on the floor from one end to the other, when we should have been studying or sleeping or performing some random acts of community service. Little work required to find a playmate when 20 of your best friends live down the hall; it was like the perfect childhood neighborhood block but without pesky parents to call us home at bedtime. We carved pumpkins, did handstands, created small fires, explored the wonders of jello, and erupted into late night dance parties when speakers were moved from desk to doorway.

Without much effort I can smell that hallway, as I have every time over the past 26 years, when I hear Whitney Houston sing "How Will I Know?", the ballad of the second floor. Creating the most vibrant memory, Whitney Houston reminds me of a wonderful year, spent with people who became life long friends; of a time when everyone was happy and voices were never silenced for too long.

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