Mixtapes for Hookers

College Is A Horrible Place: A Ten-Year Retrospective
August 30, 2010, 4:09 pm
Filed under: personal | Tags: , , , ,

Ten years ago I had a girlfriend. Her name was Monica and she was imaginary. Actually, she wasn’t imaginary, because I had a photo of her, affixed with blue Fun-tak to the wall of my freshman first-year dorm. My arm was around her. We were cute.

The day I moved into the dorm, some good-looking but frankly rather intimidating basketball players walked in and gave my wall the onceover. (I had immediately plastered my living space with photos and souvenirs from home and posters for albums that I didn’t actually own but meant to, because that is what people always did with dorm walls on TV.*) One of the jocks asked if the girl in the photo was my girlfriend and, without thinking, I said yes. “She’s hot,” he said. Which was true, although actually she was just one of my co-workers, one who was nice enough used to always make fun of me for not smoking weed or drinking and for being a vegetarian.

And yet suddenly she was my girlfriend. Once I had her, I talked about her constantly. “Monica got me this last Christmas,” I’d say, about whatever had my hometown boyfriend had given me for Christmas. “Monica listens to a lot of Cat Power.” “Monica’s family really likes me.” “Monica and I had sex in a church once.”

Lying was a lot of fun, although occasionally I would start contradicting myself, which grew troublesome. Also, because I didn’t know anything about girlfriends, some of my stories had holes in them. Like when I told my friend Sarah that Monica and I were both virgins when we met, which is why we didn’t think we had to use condoms. Horrified, Sarah asked if Monica was actually trying to get pregnant. Until that point I had never actually thought about condoms as a deterrent to pregnancy.

To avoid complications, Monica and I broke up over the Columbus Day break. This worked well, because no one was there to see it and also because it gave me a much-needed excuse to publicly sulk for a few weeks.

I needed to sulk because college was horrible. Really, every single thing was bad. My dorm was built in a 1960’s socialist worker-style, with a concrete waffle ceiling and dead ladybugs all over the windowsill. My roommate was an uptight swimmer who openly scorned me and who also joined an a capella group. The guy in the room next door listened to “Piano Man,” loudly, at least ten times a day, except when he got tired of that and then listened to “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre” ten times a day. My classes made me realize how subpar my high school education had been. The vegetarian offerings in the dining hall meant Froot Loops for breakfast and plain pasta for lunch every day. And I knew that I was never, ever going to get laid. And also everyone hated me.

The facebook did not help.

I don’t know if facebooks still exist in the age of Facebook, but they’re the books distributed at the beginning of orientation to incoming

  • freshmen
  • first-years, with photos of every member of the class alongside info about where they’re from and what high school they went to. I had submitted a self-portrait in which I was walking down a city street and wearing headphones. (I was going through my “headphones are a valid accessory” phase.) It was not a very exciting photo but I did not care. I didn’t realize that every other person was sending in their official senior portrait, and didn’t realize that I was going to a college where a large chunk of the student body had gone to schools with names like Saint Andrew’s and Saint George’s and Miss Porter’s School. I stood out; whatever sadistic person assembles these hateful books cropped my photo so that my big head took up the entire frame. And anyone that knew Rhode Island–which was not many people, thankfully–knew that I went to an overcrowded public school in the poorer half of town.

    Then on the second day, I barfed all over the front steps of the dorm.

    I barfed because I had chosen to go to one of five colleges in the United States with a phys ed requirement. Some wealthy asshole in the early nineties bequeathed a swimming pool to the school, but on the asinine condition that every single student be able to pass a swimming test. (The college, incidentally, was on top of a hill above a shopping village that was located outside a suburb of Utica, New York. There was no actual water anywhere nearby.) But the college, for whatever reason, decided to accept the offer and incorporate this into a larger phys ed scheme. So on the second day of orientation, every

  • freshman
  • first-year had to run a mile and a half and then do laps in the pool, or else they’d have to take remedial gym classes.

    I ran over a mile in the ninety-something degree heat but didn’t make the mile and a half; in the last lap around the track I suddenly felt very sick. I stumbled away silently and sweatily, skipping out on the swimming test and searching in vain for some water. I asked numerous people where a bubbler was, forgetting in my despair that bubbler is a word that only people from Rhode Island use.**

    And then I puked, mightily, on the front steps of the dorm, on the very day that the upperclassmen were moving back in. And then I was done for.

    The year did not get better. My work study placed me in the financial aid office, where I sat in an attic full of bees and sorted paper for four hours a week. Unhappy working only four hours a week, I asked for more work and got transferred to the alumni relations office, where my job was to pack the boxes that get sent to the people that host those informational sessions that take place in hotel ballrooms. I worked under the supervision of an austere British woman who didn’t explain anything and then flipped out when things weren’t done exactly as she wanted. She fired me the day after Columbus Day, for not telling her that I wasn’t showing up during the school break.

    Fired from my workstudy and broken up from my imaginary girlfriend and it was only October. I didn’t even know yet about the five consecutive months of snowstorms and darkness that plague central New York…

    (*I started college the same year that Buffy did.)
    (**I guess some people in Wisconsin say it too, but I didn’t know that then.)

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